First, I subscribe to the John Madden policy on Monday Morning Quarterbacking: If you didn't question the strategy at the time, then don't bring it up after the fact. With that said, it's interesting to note that the exact moment when John and I both felt that Redskins coach Mike Shanahan should have removed Robert Griffin III from yesterday's playoff loss to the Seahawks happened with just under 14 minutes remaining, with Washington ahead 14-13. I know this because John and I discussed it this morning on KCBS (740AM/106.9FM).
The Redskins had jumped to a 14-0 lead twelve-and-a-half minutes into the first quarter, outgaining the Seahawks in total yards 135 to minus-2. RGIII was 6-for-9 for 68 yards and two touchdowns. But in the remaining 47 1/2 minutes, Seattle outgained Washington in total yards, 382-68. And RGIII went 4-for-10 for 16 yards, an interception and a lost fumble.
RGIII had been hit hard and often, and sometimes he had fallen on his own, including twice when his right knee had simply given out. In the Skins' first play from scrimmage early in the fourth quarter, he had limped around left end for nine yards on first-and-10 from his own 22. He couldn't run. He had become a shell of his former self. He had repeatedly reaggravated the sprain of the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) in his right knee. He could no longer sprint, he could no longer scramble, he had become a drop-back pocket passer, but because he couldn't plant his right foot properly he couldn't throw deep, and even his short and medium-range passes were inconsistent at best. On the bench was fellow rookie Kirk Cousins, who was most impressive in his one NFL start, December 16th in Cleveland, the week after RGIII originally injured his knee. Cousins went 26-of-37 for 329 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-21 win.
For John and me, the realization became clear, that the Redskins had a much better chance of maintaining the lead and winning the game, with Cousins on the field, and RGIII on the sideline, avoiding any further damage to his knee. Unfortunately, as we all know by now, RGIII remained in the game for the remaining five plays of that drive, and the first two of their next drive, getting sacked on the sixth play, and then fumbling a bad snap on the seventh, during which his knee buckled and twisted grotesquely. It was very hard to watch. He was flat on his back, with one of his lineman screaming for medical assistance, done for the game. In his post-game press conference, Shanahan acknowledged that while he coached from his gut, it was possible he made mistakes, and likely that he'd regret not having taken RGIII out sooner.
Two more things that he said, though, were particularly illuminating. He said he checked with RGIII repeatedly throughout the game, to see if he was OK, and that RGIII said he was hurt but not injured, and wanted to stay in the game. And that was enough for Shanahan. The coach also insisted that he did not want to do anything that could have meant further damage to RGIII's right LCL
Two quick points: Is asking an elite athlete whether he's OK sufficient for determining whether he should stay in the game? Put another way, what elite athlete is going to ask to come out of a game, unless he can't (in this case) even walk? There is something terribly wrong when a coach thinks that the only necessary precaution is asking the player if he's OK to continue playing. And where was the team doctor, and why wasn't he consulted?
One more primary point to keep in mind, from someone who has had three ACL tears in the last 12 years: All the other knee ligaments are chump change compared with the ACL. An MCL can heal on its own. A partial LCL tear can heal on its own. A partial PCL tear can heal on its own. An ACL tear NEVER heals on its own. If the Redskins try to sell that idea, disregard it immediately. In essence, there is no such thing as a partial ACL tear. In other words, an ACL tear is an ACL tear, and requires reconstructive surgery, for any elite (and even recreational) athlete. For Shanahan to say after the game that he would not have done anything to risk RGIII's LCL shows a naivete bordering on ignorance. The ACL should have been his primary concern, all along, once he knew RGIII had an injured LCL. I tweeted that Sunday night, in fact, before RGIII went in for his MRI.
On Monday afternoon, Shanahan said the MRI revealed that RGIII suffered a partial tear of his ACL, and a partial tear of his LCL. And he said that RGIII would see team physician and renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Tuesday for clarification and guidance on how to proceed from here.
Dr. Andrews will need no more than a few seconds to manually examine RGIII's knee and determine whether the right ACL is torn. And if, indeed, it is torn, Andrews will not call it a partial tear. He will call it a tear and recommend surgery. He'll reconstruct the ACL, and repair the LCL as well. If the swelling isn't too bad, the surgery could take place within a week, and RGIII could be back on the field in six-to-nine months. But there's no guarantee.
The Redskins, and RGIII fans all around the country, are hoping the ACL is not torn, and that surgery is not necessary. But if it is, chances are that Shanahan and the Redskins will be as vague as they can possibly be about the extent of the damage done. The press will have to dig. And the face of the franchise will have to go through the surgery and the grueling rehab that he is all-too-familiar with, having suffered a similar season-ending injury during the third game of his sophomore year at Baylor, in 2009.
This all seems so unnecessary.