The initial images of the knee injury Robert Griffin III suffered Sunday in the Washington Redskins win over the Baltimore Ravens were so jarring, it seemed impossible to think the rookie QB could have escaped major structural damage. However, reports from Redskins Park said an MRI exam revealed Griffin’s knee ligaments are intact, and he has been diagnosed with a right knee sprain. While we wait on Mike Shanahan to elaborate on the exact nature of the injury, and its prognosis, here are the details we know about Griffin’s, and other key injuries from the week so far, and their potential impact.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (knee)
Griffin injured his right knee with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of the Redskins’ thrilling 31-28 overtime victory over Baltimore when his leg was struck by Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata as he fell to the ground. The injury took place as Griffin left the pocket and ran upfield, cutting into the middle. As the rookie QB fell onto his left side, Ngata’s arm and shoulder hit the inside of Griffin’s right thigh just above the knee, whipping his lower leg wildly and twisting the knee in a direction it clearly wasn’t intended to bend.
Griffin stayed on the ground, screaming in agony (but "like a man, of course," as he put it), hobbled off the field, then returned after missing one play. He proceeded to lead the Redskins down the field, but after taking an intentional grounding penalty on the Baltimore 16-yard line, Griffin called for trainers and asked to be removed due to worsening discomfort in his right knee joint.
The good news for Redskins fans is that initial tests – including an X-ray and MRI of the knee and surrounding structures – indicate that he escaped major structural damage. Instead, the team reported that Griffin suffered a sprained knee, without elaborating further on the severity or a timetable for recovery.
The knee is a hinge joint between the femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone) with ligaments running along the sides and front to connect the bones. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) run along the front and rear of the knee, respectively, with the medial collateral ligament (MCL) spanning the inside and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) spanning the outside. An injury to any of these ligaments can cause instability of the joint, with sprain injuries being the most common type.
The severity of and prognosis for recovery from knee sprains are often a source of confusion, primarily due to confusion over what exactly the different "grades" of sprains actually mean. In brief:
- Grade 1 sprain is a mild sprain that occurs when there is slight stretching and some damage to the fibers of the ligament. Individuals can usually place pressure on the foot and walk afterward.
- Grade 2 sprain is a moderate sprain where a partial tearing of the ligament occurs. If the knee joint is examined and moved in certain ways, abnormal looseness (laxity) of the joint occurs.
- Grade 3 sprain is a severe sprain in which a complete tear of the ligament occurs. If the examiner pulls or pushes on the knee in certain movements, gross instability occurs.
Initial fears were that Griffin may have re-torn his right ACL, the same ligament he injured in 2009 while a sophomore at Baylor that required reconstructive surgery. (Interestingly, a 2011 article suggested that when an individual tears an ACL, the opposite ACL is twice as likely to rupture in the future.) While possible that the same ligament was affected, the typical mechanism of an ACL injury – usually occurring while the leg is firmly planted rather than hanging free – is not consistent with yesterday’s injury. Rather, the nature of this particular injury, which took place on an unplanted knee due to a forceful trauma to the inside of the joint, is more consistent with a lateral collateral ligament (LCL) injury; however, given the violent nature of the injury, it is distinctly possible multiple ligaments or the menisci may have been involved.
Either way, even with a mild sprain, Griffin’s availability for next week’s game at Cleveland is in serious question, and if he does play, he may not be able to call upon one of his greatest assets: his game-breaking speed.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears (neck)
Cutler suffered a neck injury in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 21-14 loss to Minnesota yesterday, ultimately forcing him to exit the game. The injury took place on a high hit by Vikings DE Everson Griffen that ended up drawing a personal foul penalty; although Cutler finished the drive, he was examined by team trainers after returning to the bench and yielded to backup QB Jason Campbell for the rest of the game. Initial reports are that Cutler was suffering from whiplash following the hit and that he is unlikely to miss any further games. If he cannot suit up for next week’s NFC North showdown with Green Bay, Campbell would get the start.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs (ribs)
The Chiefs WR left in the first quarter of his team’s 30-7 loss to Cleveland with injured ribs and did not return to action. If he has multiple fractures, as has been reported, it likely means the end of Bowe’s season and quite possibly his career with the Chiefs. The main concern with rib injuries is pain management, which is nearly impossible to achieve until the injury fully heals. If Bowe is able to suit up for next week’s game at Oakland, he would likely require a protective vest and a local painkiller injection.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (finger)
Bryant, who has been a dominant force at WR in the second half of the season, suffered a sprained finger on his left hand in the second half of the Cowboys’ 20-19 last-second win over Cincinnati. Not even the injury could slow Bryant, however, who continued on with a splint and proceeded to haul in a 27-yard TD pass from Tony Romo. With the Cowboys fighting for their playoff life, the team can ill afford to lose Bryant for any period of time, but all indications are that their star wideout will be ready to go for next week’s contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers
Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles (concussion)
Celek suffered a concussion on the Eagles’ first play from scrimmage Sunday, missing the remainder of his team’s 23-21 comeback victory over Tampa Bay. This marks yet another player on the list of Eagles lost due to concussion, joining stars Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy, and Celek’s availability for Thursday’s game against Cincinnati is likely to be in doubt given the short turnaround time. Celek will have to pass neurological testing before returning to action, and if he cannot suit up against the Bengals, backup Clay Harbor would be likely to take his snaps.
Morris Claiborne, Dallas Cowboys (head, lip)
The Cowboys’ rookie CB required stitches to close a laceration on his lip sustained following a violent sideline collision in the third quarter of his team’s 20-19 win over Cincinnati. Initial fears were that Claiborne may have suffered a head injury, as the back of his helmet was struck by a teammate’s while both fell to the ground. But there have been no reports to suggest such an injury took place, and by all accounts Claiborne should be ready to play next week against the Steelers.