Before I watched Robert Griffin III move around today, I thought the Redskins would be crazy to let him try to play on Sunday. Of course, every game’s important when you’re 7-6 and in such a tight playoff race, but if taking a week off would mean Griffin would be good to go for the final two games, the NFC East rematches with Philadelphia and Dallas, then skipping the matchup in Cleveland would make sense. After all, losing to the AFC’s Browns wouldn’t hurt as much as an NFC defeat, which could be fatal to Washington’s postseason hopes.
Remember that I sided with Nats general manager Mike Rizzo’s medically-based decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg in September despite the clamor about leaving the ace right-hander out of the rotation in what could have been the franchise’s only postseason appearance for years to come.
And Griffin, who has touched the ball on just about all of Washington’s snaps, has had a hand in 26 of the Redskins’ 34 offensive touchdowns and accounted for 3,654 of their 5,024 yards, is much more critical to the local football team’s fortunes than Strasburg, who pitches every fifth day, is to those of the resident baseball team.
But unless Griffin wakes up tomorrow with more pain and swelling in his mildly sprained right knee than he had yesterday while taking limited practice, I say start him at Cleveland. Coaches play their best players, when healthy, and Griffin is Washington’s best player.
The No. 2 overall draft pick is leading the NFL with a 104.2 passer rating, has broken the record for most rushing yards by a rookie quarterback with 748, and generally scares the heck out of opposing defenses with his trifecta of intelligent decision-making, world-class speed, and strong and accurate passing.
Griffin’s legs might be less of a factor against the Browns, but the other factors should help him compensate and make him the right choice over fellow rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has been surprisingly effective during relief appearances against Atlanta and Baltimore after the starter was concussed and injured the knee.
“I feel really blessed to have only sustained the grade of an injury that I did,” Griffin said, sporting a brace on his knee as he did as a Baylor junior after tearing his right ACL in 2009. “It’s gotten better every day which is a positive sign. Sunday night, I thought there was probably no chance I could play. Monday morning, I felt better about it. Yesterday, I felt [even] better about it. Today I feel really good about it. I did enough to give myself the confidence to push it tomorrow and then on Friday.”
Of course, Griffin, who at 22 should have a long career ahead of him, didn’t want to hear about any Strasburgian wait until next year logic.
“The day you start taking that mentality into football is the day you should stop playing,” he said. “I feel like I can push through any kind of injury. If I can ensure my safety and my health and my career then I’ll go out there and play. If not, then I won’t. It’s not just about me playing and being out there. It’s about the team. If I feel like I can give the team the best chance to win then I’ll play. We’re trying to make the playoffs and go further than that and I need to be out there for my team.”
Coach Mike Shanahan was “impressed” that his rookie star was able to get back on the field so soon after being hurt when tackled by massive Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata at the end of a late 13-yard scramble that helped give relief pitcher Cousins the chance to tie the game in the final minute and then beat Baltimore in overtime.
“When I took a look at that blow, I didn’t think [Robert] would be able to do the things he did today,” Shanahan said. “I was impressed with what he did and how he worked. We’ll see at the end of the week if he’s full-speed and ready to go, and if he is, he’ll play.”
Cleveland, you’ve been warned.
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