Before I get to my analysis of the divisional playoff game between the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday at 3:30 pm in Denver, I must digress for a moment to a comment I made in my column last week - "based on their (the player's) respective prior injury history, use their greatest strength against them – the athletic mindset of pushing beyond the limits of human performance to win - even to the point of sacrificing one's body for the team."
I was referring to the fact that even if a highly competitive athlete has a recent injury, he will, if you let him, hurt himself again trying to return to action to win for his team.
Such was the case last Sunday with Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who put aside his previous injury (lateral collateral ligament – LCL - sprain on his right knee sustained in a Dec. 9 Redskins win over Baltimore), and played hurt against the Seahawks in Washington's loss last Sunday. Sure enough, his season ended in the fourth quarter with a second knee injury.
USA Today sports reporter Jarrett Bell had these comments in his Monday column: "In the end, Robert Griffin III gave it all he had. But, his right knee had nothing left. It buckled in the middle of the fourth quarter. He was done. Finished."
Griffin commented after the 24-14 loss, "I'm the quarterback, the leader of this team. If you can play, you play." My words were proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in this tragic example of a very competitive player (Griffin) trying to win at all cost.
But there is more to this story that must be put on the table before we move on. It has to do with a "he said, he said" dispute between Washington's orthopedic surgeon, James Andrews, and Redskins Coach Mile Shanahan, as to who will take ownership of the decision to allow Griffin not only to go back into the Dec. 9 game, when he sustained the LCL sprain, but then also being allowed to play against the Seahawks last Sunday.
According to the USA Today report, "Andrews never cleared Griffin to return to the Dec. 9 game.... despite Shanahan's contention that Andrews had given the OK." Andrews went on to say that he never cleared Griffin to go back in the game against the Ravens because, "he never examined him. Griffin did not even let us look at him."
Andrews commented that "he was scared to death" about Griffin playing again last Sunday.
Griffin told Shanahan last Sunday during a halftime discussion, "Coach, there's a difference between being injured and hurt. I can guarantee that I'm hurt right now (he got up limping after throwing a first-and-goal incompletion in the first half), but give me a chance to win this football game, because I guarantee that I'm not injured."
Last Monday, The New York Times reported, "Shanahan revealed that Griffin, who played nearly all of Sunday's game with an injured right knee, would be examined Tuesday by Dr. Andrews." Griffin previously tore his ACL in the right knee in 2009, while he was playing at Baylor. The fear would be if he sustained a similar injury, which could jeopardize his 2013 season.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post, citing a source familiar with Griffin's condition, reported, "Robert Griffin III has a torn lateral collateral ligament (LCL was sprained in Dec. 9 game) in his right knee and will undergo surgery today (Wednesday in Pensacola by Dr. Andrews)."
According to Tim Finney, orthopedic surgeon and former Saints' team physician, "it appears Griffin will require multiple ligament repair/reconstruction – LCL repair and ACL reconstruction. You won't know the condition of the ACL, until you get in there and see if it is a partial versus full thickness tear."
Rehabilitation, Finney said, "could take anywhere from 6-12 months, depending on the severity of the injury."
Surgery to Griffin's injured right knee Wednesday confirmed Finney's conclusion – repair of LCL and reconstruction of ACL by Andrews.
Now to the game at hand – Denver hosting Baltimore – which carries with it the emotions of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' last stand before he retires at the end of the NFL playoffs, and the amazing comeback this season by Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning from a year out of the game (2011 season) with multiple cervical (neck) surgeries under his belt.
So far in his career, Manning has nine consecutive victories, including playoffs, against the Ravens. The last Baltimore victory came back on Dec. 2, 2001 in Baltimore.
Baltimore, knowing Manning's famed ability to pick apart a defensive secondary, must find a way to penetrate the Broncos' offensive line and force Manning to hold the ball beyond the recommended three seconds - a recommendation which came from Archie Manning to me in a previous column. Denver's Achilles heel is its turn over differential (-1) during the regular season. The Ravens in comparison are plus nine.
Denver, on the other hand, must continue to put points up early and put the Ravens in a comeback mode. So far this season, Denver has only needed two fourth-quarter comebacks during their 11-game winning streak, in which they have won each game by seven points or more.
This game may come down to two seasoned veterans – Lewis vs. Manning - as to who will outsmart the other. Lewis was quoted as saying, "at the end of the day, it is not about me or Peyton. It's about their team against our team. I love our team right now."
Taking a look back at 18 weeks of the Ravens' weekly injury reports, this team has had its share of bumps and bruises but still is playing very physical football. For instance, last week going into the playoff game against the Colts, the Ravens had 22 injury notations, including wide receiver Anquan Bolden (shoulder), which did not keep him out of practice, much less effect him grabbing five passes for 145 yards - all in the second quarter with one for a TD. In three postseason games over the last two years, Boldin has 15 catches for 319 yards and two touchdowns.
Only in weeks 5 against the Chiefs and 6 against the Cowboys did the Ravens register just two injury notations. Otherwise, it was a packed house for most weeks in the training room.
Coming off their bye week at Week 8, the Ravens listed 19 injury notations going into the Week 9 game against the Browns. The Week 7 game against the Texans must have been one heck of a physical battle.
It just goes to show you that you can play hurt but not injured, as Griffin did for the Redskins last Sunday.
Speaking of playing hurt, Peyton Manning, with his previous four neck surgeries in 2011, has been sporting a glove on his throwing hand the last two games of the regular season to increase his grip strength – something that can potentially be weakened initially after his type of surgery. While the temperature Saturday afternoon in Denver is expected to be 22 degrees with a low of 10, the glove may help with more than just protecting against the cold.
Manning was quoted in The New York Times on Wednesday saying, "I certainly don't think I would've had to wear the glove had I not been injured last year. It's part of my injury." Manning made it clear that, "I'm in a different body. Things are different for me. And I've had to adjust."
And I am sure that Ray Lewis and company are going to do everything in their power to make Manning do just that – adjust. However, with a week off, while the Ravens were beating up on the Colts, Manning's former team, and the thin air in Denver', the advantage tips to the Broncos to be victorious over the Ravens.
The Broncos on Tuesday welcomed back to practice running back Willis McGahee, who had been sidelined with a knee injury since Week 11 against the San Diego Chargers. McGahee will be ineligible to play until the AFC championship game, if the Broncos prevail Saturday in Denver, as a result of being placed on the injured reserve with a designation to return last November.
Wednesday, the Broncos and Ravens provided their weekly injury reports after their respective practices. The Ravens noted 16 injury notations with four who did not practice (Vonta Leach, knee and ankle; Bernard Pierce, knee; Jah Reid, toe; and Dannell Ellerbe, ankle), while the Broncos had eight injury notations and only one did not practice (Tracy Porter, concussion). All the remaining players on both teams with an injury citation were at a full practice participation status.
By Thursday both head coaches - Denver's John Fox and Baltimore's John Harbaugh – were pleased with their respective team's health. Harbaugh said, "It's encouraging to have all our guys ... we aren't anticipating anybody missing this game," while Fox said he was pleased with his team's health going into Saturday's game.
In the final analysis, it will come down to whether Peyton Manning can get a firm grip on the ball, so he can get a grip on the game. Or, if Ray Lewis can breakthrough the Broncos' front line and open gaping holes for his fellow teammates to flood the backfield, while the Raven cornerbacks manhandle the Bronco receivers at the line of scrimmage, then the game will not be a blowout.
Let's wait and see.