Lets begin on January 5, 2012
Viking fans were in a panic when they saw an uneasy Christian Ponder wincing slightly while attempting warm up throws. None of his throws topped 15 yards in length at Lambeau Field before he walked back into the locker room with his trainer.
Sure enough, 90 minutes before kickoff, Joe Webb was named the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings for that playoff game. A deep tricep bruise, an injury that wasn't reported or discussed the entire week by major media outlets, was going to sideline Christian Ponder in their playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.
Joe Webb was the first quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game after not attempting a single pass the entire season. This event went as expected, Webb showed some signs of life, but gave Vikings fans a below average showing. He went 11 for 30 gaining 180 and yards and a touchdown through the air and committed two turnovers. Then the question for head coach Leslie Frazier became "...Why couldn't Ponder start again?"
"He tried everything he could to get on the field," Frazier said. " It wouldn't have been wise to put him out there with the injury he had."
All a coach should ever think of when confronted with a decision to play an athlete are: A players long term health. And the ability to execute their game plan in spite of the injury. With a strong running game and defense, this decision should be easier to trust your backup, right?
The next day, the Washington Redskins trotted Robert Griffin out in a knee brace to play the biggest game of his career.
This is one day after trusted NFL doctor, James Andrews expressed his discomfort with him playing.
"He's doing a lot better this week, but he's still recovering and I'm holding my breath because of it," Andrews said. "He passed all the tests and all the functional things we do, but it's been a trying moment for me, to be honest with you."
This is a month after being diagnosed with a LCL sprain according to team doctors. This sprain was considered to be an injury Griffin could play though, and he did exactly that. However, when the Redskins played the Cowboys for the right to go to the playoffs, it became apparent fans were watching a different quarterback.
RG3's top speed was slower, he was more hesitant in the pocket, he ran his read option with less intensity. He went 9 of 18 for exactly 100 passing yards and gained another 63 on the ground. Most notably, there were little to no deep throws, but they overcame that with a strong rushing attack. His performance was gutsy, and efficient enough, but I called this game the "Warning Game."
First, let me clarify that RG3 is an excellent quarterback with a bright future in the NFL. I also want to add that I believe that a grade 1 LCL sprain can be a "playable" injury, but not if your ability is going to continuously deteriorate. I also believe that Kyle Shanahan did a great job taking the work off of Griffin's shoulders, by using shorter pass plays and relying more on Alfred Morris to break that game open.
Unfortunately, Pete Caroll is no fool and was going to game plan to make this team beat them "left handed". They were going to contain Albert Morris and make Griffin win the game on his own with scrambling yardage, deep balls, and intermediate throws. Everything RG3 could do in well if that knee wasn't bothering him.That was why I called the Dallas game the "Warning Game" because the takeaways from that game should have been surreal. Dallas' defense was depleted by injuries but still mildly effective, they just couldn't overcome Tony Romo's turnovers.The underlying truth for Washington should have been that the same injured QB and the same game plan could only lead to their demise in the playoffs.
As a football fan who has seen Rex Grossman in action, I could be persuaded to agree with the decision to stick with RG3 had Grossman been the next quarterback on the depth chart. However, Kirk Cousins is the backup and unlike the situation the Vikings had, Cousins played played well earlier in the season.
Imagine the 8th inning of a baseball game when the starting pitcher is pulled from the game with the lead as the manager chooses to go the the bullpen to close out the game.
Like that tired pitcher, Griffin took the Redskins as far as he could but was in need of rest. A healthy Kirk Cousins with a week of first team reps, a strong rushing performance from Alfred Morris, and strong defense could have been enough to win the game to against Seattle.
Instead we all saw what I feared, and anyone could have predicted. Another game where RG3 was sore, and another run heavy game plan filled with bubble screens, play action, and option. That game plan worked for a while in the first quarter, but after that Seattle's defense had them figured out. And after scoring 21 unanswered points, the pressure mounted for the Redskins as they took the field for their next possession. Seattle had officially forced them into their "left handed" game plan and just two plays in, we saw a motionless Robert Griffin on the ground.
The crowd went quiet and in comes a nervous, hesitant, Kirk Cousins who looked ill prepared to save the day. He struggled in the third and fourth quarter and suddenly Washington's season was over, and their future was now in jeopardy.
After a successful surgery on January 9, fans are left to await the return of Robert Griffin. It looks to be a six to eight month journey for fans, who hope to see the dynamic athlete they've seen all this year upon his return.
Until then, Redskin fans should all be deeply concerned with the men who jeopardized the health of their best quarterback prospect in recent memory.
Schuler, Gus Frerotte, Patrick Ramsey and Jason Campbell were all potential franchise quarterbacks that didn't pan out, it my hope that Griffin's injury does not add him to that list.