by David Elfin

It has been four weeks since Robert Griffin III underwent surgery to repair the torn LCL and shore up the previously torn ACL in his right knee and the face of the franchise will turn 23 next week.

Even though Griffin re-injuring his knee – originally hurt in the Week 14 victory over Super Bowl champion Baltimore — in the wild card loss to Seattle likely kept Washington from advancing in the NFC playoffs, the outlook for the quarterback and his team seems brighter now than it did in that gloomy first week of the offseason.

Not that the Redskins have done anything since that 24-14 loss to the Seahawks in just the second playoff game in Landover history other than lose Danny Smith, their special teams coordinator the past nine seasons, to Pittsburgh and receivers coach Ike Hilliard to Buffalo.

However, Griffin’s relentless optimism isn’t just infused throughout the organization which hadn’t reached postseason in five years before his arrival as the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. The fact that Griffin walked the red carpet with barely a trace of a limp and was so upbeat during this past Saturday’s NFL awards ceremony has to give Redskins fans hope that the good times will continue to roll in 2013.

“Times have changed,” Griffin said before learning that he had beaten out teammate Alfred Morris and fellow quarterbacks Russell Wilson of Seattle and Andrew Luck of Indianapolis to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. “[They were] underdogs in Washington … for a long time, but now it’s time for us to be top dog. We’re looking forward to putting this together for not just one year, but for many years.”

Pretty bold talk considering the Redskins haven’t put together consecutive winning seasons since 1996-97 or made the playoffs in back-to-back years since 1991-92, the final two seasons of Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs’ initial Washington tenure, but Griffin was just as confident that he’ll be ready for the season opener in early September.

“No doubt in my mind,” said Griffin, who tore the same ACL while playing for Baylor in 2009. “It’s feeling good. I went through the toughest part already, so it’s now it’s just about being smart, not pushing it too much. I was ahead … in 2009. I’m a little bit ahead right now as well. [But] no matter how far ahead you get, you’ve still got … to think long-term rather than short term.”

Griffin said just having been through a similar rehabilitation process less than four years ago is terrific preparation as he begins the regular shuttle between his Northern Virginia home and the rehab facility in Pensacola, Fla.

“I know what peaks and valleys there’s going to be, what milestones I need to hit and when I’m gonna hit them,” he said. “[That gives] me the confidence to know that I can come back better than I was before. I think you will see a different version of me. I vowed to my teammates and to myself after my first knee injury that I’d come back a better player, and that’s what I plan to do after this one, as well. You won’t see the the same Robert Griffin. You’ll see a better Robert Griffin.”

Coach Mike Shanahan and the Redskins will certainly accept a carbon copy of the 2012 Griffin, Washington’s first Offensive Rookie of the Year since running back Mike Thomas in 1975. All Griffin did was set NFL records for highest passer rating by a rookie and most rushing yards by a rookie quarterback. He also delivered plenty of electrifying moments, was voted a co-captain by his teammates and was the biggest reason why the Redskins turned a 3-6 start into a 10-6 finish that produced their first NFC East title in 13 years.

Washington took a 14-0 lead on Seattle just after Griffin’s knee first crumpled in the Jan. 6 playoff game. After being checked out by surgeon James Andrews and the rest of the Redskins’ medical staff, Griffin demanded to return to the game for the next offensive series.

And although it soon became apparent that his star wasn’t right, Shanahan let him keep playing until the final blow to the knee happened in the fourth quarter. As well as backup Kirk Cousins had played in relief against division winners Atlanta and Baltimore and in his lone start in Griffin’s place against Cleveland, it’s possible that the Redskins might have held on to beat the Seahawks if the proud quarterback and coach hadn’t been so stubborn.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Griffin said at the awards ceremony. “There’s a lot of different things that I, we, wish we would have done differently as a team. The only regret and bitterness is the fact that we lost, and we felt like we should have won the game.”

But if Griffin’s right knee had never been injured, maybe, just maybe, the Redskins could have been in the Ravens’ cleats two nights ago.

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


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