When the Washington Redskins wrapped up their light individual work prior to the honest-to-goodness start to practice Wednesday, Robert Griffin III carried the most important knee joint in Washington to a small cart at the side of the field in the team’s indoor practice facility.
He plopped himself down and propped up his right knee. And with help from an athletic trainer, he wrapped that right knee in a brace – one that may be hindering his performance as he prepares for the first playoff game of his NFL career.
“Each week, I’ve been able to do more,” Griffin said. “Today, I felt a lot better than I did last week, and I mean, that’s all you can ask for at this point.”
There is, though, the possibility that as the Redskins approach their first playoff game in five years — Sunday’s matchup against the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field — Griffin’s knee feels better, but he is unable to be the fully explosive player that helped the Redskins reach this point because of the Velcro straps around it. Since spraining the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee Dec. 9 against Baltimore, Griffin has missed one game and been, as a passer, less than spectacular in two others.
In his first 13 games, Griffin completed 66.7 percent of his passes. The past two, that percentage has dropped to 59.5. In the season-ending victory over Dallas that clinched the the NFC East title, Griffin hit on 9 of 18 passes for 100 yards, posting the lowest quarterback rating (66.9) of the season. Only once this year did he throw for fewer yards. Only once did he complete a lower percentage.
“Being 50 percent sounds like it’s not very accurate, especially for him,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “But they challenged us in a little different way, and we didn’t throw the football as much. But sometimes games are going to occur like that. We ran the ball 40-something times. It all depends on what defenses are doing.”
Given how Griffin moved against the Cowboys — walking with something of a limp, seemingly not planting hard on his right leg — there may be reason to believe defenses don’t have to worry as much about the rookie quarterback’s versatility. But Griffin pointed out that he still ran six times for 63 yards — the third time this year he averaged more than 10 yards a carry — and he said the brace automatically alters his gait.
“Any time you wear a brace like that, it’s to protect you, so it’s gonna cause a natural limp,” Griffin said. “You’re not going to be able to bend your knee normally. It restricts your flexion and your extension. So it’s just to protect the ligaments in there, so there’ll be a natural limp in there, but at the same time you can still generate power.”
The victory over Dallas was built on Alfred Morris’s 200-yard performance on the ground. So in the locker room Wednesday, Griffin’s teammates preferred to discuss the offense’s ability to adjust rather than anything that might hinder their quarterback.
“He still ran for yards,” fullback Darrell Young said. “He’s Robert Griffin. He makes big plays. He didn’t do it with his legs [in the passing game]. Alfred helped out. The O-line helped out. . . . There’s 11 guys out there trying to have fun. It’s everybody.”
Griffin even framed a story line in which the injury has helped him learn about what to do and not do as a quarterback.
“This game’s not easy, but it did show me some things that I can do to make the game easier for myself, easier on my body,” Griffin said. “So ironically I’ve done a better job of protecting myself since the injury, sliding, getting down, getting all the yards I can and getting out of bounds. Sometimes things have to happen like that for you to really, really grasp that.”
Griffin allowed that there’s a chance that he will shed the brace against Seattle, though he later played down that possibility. Head athletic trainer Larry Hess and the team’s medical staff are monitoring the knee closely.
“The doctors aren’t going to let me take it off, I don’t believe, and Larry’s not going to let me take it off,” Griffin said. “So I try to do as much as I can without the brace, and then whenever they find out that I don’t have it on, then I have to throw it on.”
After practice in the locker room, Griffin took off the brace to reveal a criss-cross of black tape around the knee, from his thigh to his shin. He stripped it off before walking upstairs to address the media.
Following his own remarks, Griffin stealthily hung in the back of the room. When Shanahan walked in, he took the microphone and playfully asked his own coach, “What did you do for New Year’s?”
Shanahan couldn’t contain a smile.
“I had to put a good game plan together,” he said, playing along. “I wasn’t sure how healthy you were, so it was hard.”
How healthy he actually is remains something only Griffin and his doctors can truly know. Griffin, by now, has a stock answer.
“Everyone wants to know what percentage I am,” Griffin said. “What I tell them is: I’m 100 percent because I’m out there. The team knows how I am and what’s going on with me, but they know when I’m on that field I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”