Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III emerged from “successful” surgery Wednesday on two right knee ligaments, the team said, but the electrifying rookie faces a difficult road back as he attempts to recapture his elite athletic ability.
The timeline for Griffin’s recovery and rehabilitation remained murky, though orthopedic surgeon James Andrews said in a statement released through the team that “it is everybody’s hope and belief that due to Robert’s high motivation, he will be ready for the 2013 season.”
During about five hours of surgery, Andrews said he repaired Griffin’s lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and reconstructed Griffin’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) for the second time . Griffin previously tore his right ACL in 2009 while he was playing for Baylor University.
Even as questions lingered about whether Griffin should have remained in Sunday’s game with an obviously reinjured right leg, the Redskins provided few details about the surgery or an outline for Griffin’s recovery. Estimates from various experts put his rehabilitation at anywhere from eight to 12 months.
“He’s a hard worker, and he’s going to hit this thing at full tilt, as much as his knee will allow him,” said Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “Barring any setbacks, I don’t see why he can’t do what [Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson] did. Yeah, [Peterson] is a freak, but Robert is a freak, too.”
Peterson tore his ACL against Washington on Dec. 24, 2011, recovered in time to start the 2012 season and fell nine yards shy of the NFL’s single-season rushing record. On Monday, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan noted Peterson’s rapid recovery.
Griffin likely will miss all of the Redskins’ offseason program, which begins April 15, and probably training camp, which begins in late July. At quarterback, the team is expected to turn to backup Kirk Cousins, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2012 draft and played four different times (including one start) in 2012, when Griffin was injured.
Griffin traveled to Gulf Breeze, Fla., Tuesday to have his knee examined by Andrews, who concluded that the quarterback’s previously sprained LCL was torn and would need to be repaired. Once the surgery began at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Andrews determined that he would also reconstruct the ACL.
For the forseeable future, Griffin is expected to remain in Florida, where he will be monitored at the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine outside Pensacola. The initial six to eight weeks of recovery time are considered crucial to his rehabilitation, one person with knowledge of the situation said.
Griffin’s suffered a Grade 1, or mild, sprain of his LCL in a Dec. 9 game against the Baltimore Ravens and missed one game before returning for the final two regular season contests. He wore a bulky brace and lacked his usual speed and mobility.
He aggravated the injury in last Sunday’s playoff loss to Seattle, crumpling to the ground when his knee buckled without contact in the fourth quarter. He left the field and did not return.
Three orthopedic surgeons familiar with the type of procedure Andrews performed said the quarterback could face a lengthy rehabilitation.
Benjamin S. Shaffer, head team physician for the Washington Capitals, said he expects Griffin to be on crutches for three to six weeks before he begins his actual rehabilitation. Shaffer, who has no direct knowledge of, or involvement in, Griffin's case, said he anticipates Griffin being able to return to the field in 9 to 12 months.
Even some in the Redskins organization said privately that it seemed optimistic to expect Griffin to return to full strength by the start of next season. While acknowledging the Peterson case, some — who asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation — pointed to former Redskins running back Tim Hightower, who tore his ACL in October 2011 and tried in vain to return to full strength by the start of the 2012 season.
Hightower appeared in one preseason game, but his knee swelled and he had trouble walking in the days that followed. He was released on Aug. 31 with his recovery incomplete.
Alexander said that even if Griffin loses some of his speed and elusiveness, he still can be an elite NFL quarterback. This season, Griffin had the NFL’s third-best passer rating and fourth-best completion percentage while he threw for 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions.
“One of his biggest strengths is his arm, and his ability to stand in the pocket and pass with accuracy,” Alexander said. “The guy ran a 4.3 [40-yard dash] now, so what, a 4.6? Who cares? As a quarterback, it’s not his job to stretch the field and take the lid off the defense.
“Aaron Rodgers is a great example of a guy who has good mobility, but isn’t nearly as fast as Robert, but can still move around, create and extend plays with his legs. Robert will be fine.”
Mark Maske and Dave Sheinin contributed to this report.