Robert Griffin III's Injury Shows How Smart Nats Were with Stephen Strasburg

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Robert Griffin III's Injury Shows How Smart Nats Were with Stephen Strasburg
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Washington Redskins prioritized the present over the future on Sunday, as head coach Mike Shanahan allowed superstar rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III to keep playing against the Seattle Seahawks even though his right knee was clearly not 100 percent.

In fact, it was basically hanging by a thread. RG3 could barely walk, never mind run or pass.

In the end, the Redskins watched RG3 go down in a heap in the fourth quarter and were bounced from the playoffs by a final of 24-14. For them and their long-suffering fans, the present stinks and the future is now uncertain.

Somewhere out there, Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo may be feeling an odd mix of sympathy and pride right now. His decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg in September when his team was on the verge of a postseason berth, thus prioritizing the future over the present, is looking pretty good.

The Strasburg situation and the RG3 situation aren't exactly carbon copies of each other, but the parallels are hard to ignore. The Redskins went for broke with RG3, paid for it and may not be done paying for it. The Nationals didn't go for broke with Strasburg and are in good shape heading into the future.

It should have occurred to the Redskins to take a page out of the Nationals' book on Sunday, but in retrospect, it's no surprise that they didn't. The word around the campfire is that their mismanagement of RG3 began well before Sunday's game.

Griffin first injured his knee in December in a game against the Baltimore Ravens. Though he was clearly in pain, Shanahan said he allowed Griffin to return to the game with the blessing of Dr. James Andrews, who knows more about sports medicine than the dude who invented sports medicine.

However, Dr. Andrews told USA Today that he never even got a chance to look at RG3 on the sidelines.

"(Griffin) didn't even let us look at him," Andrews said. "He came off the field, walked through the sidelines, circled back through the players and took off back to the field. It wasn't our opinion."

Dr. Andrews said that he ultimately did make the call to have Griffin removed from the game against the Ravens, but he was still worried about the quarterback's health ahead of Sunday's game. He said that Griffin was "still recovering."

By midway through the second quarter of Sunday's game, the Redskins didn't need a doctor to tell them that Griffin had no business playing. He was playing on an absolute mess of a field, and he could neither run nor throw like RG3 usually runs and throws.

The stat sheet was screaming for Griffin to be removed as well, as the Redskins gained only 41 yards on offense in the final two-and-a-half quarters that he played.

RG3 was giving it his all, but he wasn't helping.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Mike Shanahan should have saved RG3 from himself on Sunday.

These things considered, Shanahan legitimately had every excuse to remove Griffin from harm's way. A renowned doctor was worried about RG3's health, he looked like a man with a bad injury and the numbers indicated very strongly that he was playing like a man with a bad injury.

And this, of course, recalls certain parameters of the Strasburg situation. The Nationals essentially did the exact opposite with him than what the Redskins did with RG3.

Rizzo's decision to shut Strasburg down early ticked off a lot of people within the industry, but it didn't lead to any sleepless nights for Dr. Andrews. He said on ESPN Radio (via the Washington Post) that he was on board with what the Nationals were going to do with Strasburg:

He’s such a young pitcher, such a tremendous talent, and I think prevention and being careful with these high-level pitchers is certainly admirable. So I would certainly take up for the decision...I don’t think you can criticize that one bit, to be honest with you.

A couple weeks before the shutdown came, Rizzo said that he was taking the "recommendations" of both Dr. Andrews and fellow surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum and "putting them into place." Despite all accusations of the contrary, Rizzo wasn't flying blind. 

He also wasn't blind to the reality of the situation in late August and early September. Strasburg had been enjoying a dominant season, but the warning signs were clear and present when he endured a couple of brutal starts against the punchless Miami Marlins.

In those two starts, Strasburg lasted a total of only eight innings and gave up 12 runs (10 earned) on 15 hits. The numbers suggested he was tiring, and Rizzo said his eyes reached the same conclusion.

“After yesterday’s start, we just figured that mentally and physically, Stephen looked like he was fatigued,” Rizzo said, via the Post

Goodness knows not everyone was happy with Rizzo's decision. Even Strasburg had a hard time biting his tongue and going along with it, telling the Post that he was "not happy" and that he figured he had another start in him. He later tried to convince the team to reconsider.

Had the Nationals taken Strasburg's word for it, it's possible that their worst fears would have been realized. They didn't take his word for it a) because they knew what they were doing and b) because professional athletes are always going to say they're good to go. Even if they're not.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Stephen Strasburg reacted to being shut down the same way any other pitcher would have reacted in his shoes.

RG3 demonstrated as much on Sunday. He said after the game, via ESPN.com, that "you have to step up and be a man."

That line is on page one of the great book of athlete cliches, yet Shanahan ate it up. He knew that RG3 was hurt and could presumably see just as well as the rest of us just how dire the situation was, but he allowed his sense of trust to overrule his sense of caution.

"I talked to Robert and he said to me, 'Coach, there's a difference between being injured and being hurt,' " Shanahan said, via Yahoo! Sports. "He said, 'I can guarantee I'm hurt right now but give me the chance to win this football game because I guarantee I'm not injured.'"

Shanahan added: "That was enough for me."

It's easy to imagine Rizzo reading these comments in the morning paper and shaking his head. Whereas he blazed a new trail with his handling of the Strasburg situation, Shanahan allowed himself to be duped in a scene straight out of an underdog sports movie.

By listening to reason, Rizzo greatly improved the chance of a full season of production out of Strasburg in 2013. And ultimately, his decision to shut Strasburg down didn't end up costing the Nationals in the postseason, as it was their bullpen—not their rotation—that blew a chance to go to the NLCS.

Had Shanahan listened to reason instead of Griffin's voice, he would have put Kirk Cousins in against the Seahawks. Cousins is not on RG3's level if all things are equal, to be sure, but things weren't equal on Sunday. A two-legged Cousins would have been better than a one-legged Griffin.

Al Bello/Getty Images
Knees aren't supposed to bend like that. Especially not when they're already wounded.

So much for that, and now it's all about the waiting game. No official word has come down the pipeline about Griffin's knee, but everyone and their uncle is expecting to hear the word "torn" followed by either "ACL" or "MCL." Maybe even both.

Unless RG3 has the healing power of Adrian Peterson, it feels like a very real possibility that he will miss the entire 2013 season. If he does, then Shanahan's bumbling will have set the Redskins organization back just when it was finally getting going again.

Meanwhile, the Nationals will be enjoying what promises to be an excellent 2013 season. They should be just as good as they were in 2012, except nobody will be worried about Strasburg being shut down early this time around. He'll surely be a candidate for the NL Cy Young Award, and he could spearhead a charge to the World Series come October.

Such was the plan when the Nationals decided to be safe rather than sorry with their young ace. If they could do things over again, one assumes the Redskins would have come up with a plan of their own for their franchise quarterback.

At the very least, one assumes they wouldn't just play it by ear again.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


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