Reporting David Elfin
ASHBURN, Va. (CBSDC) — The Washington Redskins lost another close game yesterday, this one to the Atlanta Falcons on a touchdown with 2:46 remaining. However, much more worrisome than the 24-17 defeat was the forced departure of face of the franchise Robert Griffin III with six minutes left in the third quarter with what the Redskins called a “mild” concussion.
Underdog Washington led 10-7 on a 23-yard field goal that followed the play on which Griffin was tackled hard by linebacker Sean Weatherspoon at the Atlanta 5-yard line. The Falcons outscored the Redskins 17-7 the rest of the way to remain unbeaten and drop the host to 2-3.
That turnaround in the score only signifies the importance of the 22-year-old rookie quarterback to Washington’s fortunes, but what really matters is Griffin’s health.
Just five games into his career, Griffin has already taken more than his fair share of shots even though offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan dialed way back on the designed runs for the Olympic-class speedster the past couple of games. Griffin was concussed, not on an option keeper, but while scrambling to try to pick up a first down after being unable to find an open receiver on third-and-goal.
Griffin has already proven that he’s plenty tough, especially in the St. Louis game when he kept getting up after receiving vicious hits from head-hunting Rams defenders. He has also shown that he’ll do anything to win such as his dive for the pylon in the following Sunday’s home opener against Cincinnati that prompted the trainers to check him out for a concussion.
“I was just a little dizzy,” Griffin said after the Bengals’ game in which he was sacked six times, hurried 13 more and was tackled at the end of 12 runs. “I thought it was a touchdown. I got up to celebrate and everything on the left was on the right and everything on the right was on the left so I just fell back down, took a second, stood up and I was fine … nothing to worry about.”
But after a relatively quiet Week 4 victory at Tampa Bay, came yesterday’s concussion-inducing blow from Weatherspoon. Griffin tweeted after the game that he was feeling better and would play this Sunday against Minnesota. His father emailed me the same thing this morning, but the rookie’s teammates are concerned. They know their fate for years to come rests in his arm, legs, brain and heart.
“He’s a fighter and wanted to come back out and play, but health comes before anything,” said special teams captain Lorenzo Alexander, one of the wisest Redskins. “I think he understands. He has nothing to prove to us. We know he’s a tough guy. Any type of concussion is serious business, beyond football. Hopefully he learns from it by throwing the ball away [the next time] and not taking shots like that.”
For all of his wondrous gifts, Griffin isn’t a latter-day Bronko Nagurski. He’s meant to run around defenders, not over them. The NFC’s third-ranked passer and the NFL’s top running quarterback seems generously listed at 6-foot-2 and 223 pounds. On the dual-threat quarterback scale, Griffin appears closer in size to Michael Vick’s listed 6-0, 215 than Cam Newton’s 6-5, 248.
Griffin’s home field tally so far is two losses, one game with a mild concussion and one in which he was checked for a similar injury. That’s not good. He needs to strike a better balance between wanting that extra yard and knowing that he can’t make a play from the training room. It’s similar to understanding that it’s better sometimes to throw the ball away than to hang in there another second and take a sack.
When Griffin was down yesterday, I couldn’t help but think that he was on the same sideline where LaVar Arrington ended Troy Aikman’s Hall of Fame career with a tackle in a 2000 game. As Griffin walked to the locker room to get checked out, I was reminded of Arrington’s own dramatic return from a blow to the head the next year against Carolina.
“I had a giant headache so I went to a quiet, dark room and laid there ‘til halftime,” Arrington wrote in an email today. “I got up, told [Redskins medical personnel] all the correct answers to a concussion test and then came back out and played.”
In fact, Arrington’s 67-yard touchdown on an interception ignited the winless Redskins’ comeback from a 14-0 deficit that resulted in an overtime victory as Washington turned an 0-5 start into an 8-8 season. Ultimately, Arrrington’s career ended five years later with a ruptured Achilles, thankfully not from any brain injury.
The NFL’s concussion protocol is much stricter in 2012, but it sounds like Griffin will be back in the lineup six days from now against the Vikings. That’s fine as long as he and the Redskins make sure that his long-term health and their long-term future trump the importance of any game and even this season’s outcome.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin