NEW ORLEANS — Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III won the Associated Press offensive rookie of the year award on Saturday night, tying a bow on a memorable season while also casting some optimism on the next one.
Speaking for the first time since undergoing extensive knee surgery nearly four weeks ago, Griffin said his rehabilitation is already ahead of schedule and he has “no doubt” he’ll be ready to play next season.
“My goal is Week 1,” he said. “That’s all I’m really worried about.”
Griffin, who underwent surgery on his right knee on Jan. 9, said he’s been off crutches for nearly two weeks and was walking Saturday with only the slightest hint of a limp. Sporting a striped burgundy and gold neck tie, Griffin had no problem taking the stage at Mahalia Jackson Theater and accepting his award from New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.
“It’s a truly a blessing to be up here and be able to stand, first and foremost,” Griffin told the star-studded crowd. “I had a tough injury there at the end of the season.”
The quarterback had made no public appearances since injuring his knee in the Redskins’ Jan. 6 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks and likened Saturday night to a “coming-out party,” as he offered updates on his progress and his offseason hopes. Griffin said when Washington fans see him take the field next, they’ll notice changes.
“You will see a different version of me,” he said. “I vowed to my teammates and to myself after my first knee injury that I’ll come back a better player and that’s what I plan to do after this one as well. You won’t see the same Robert Griffin. You’ll see a better Robert Griffin.”
Saying “hindsight is 20/20,” Griffin didn’t express any complaints about the disastrous end to his rookie season. He said Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan briefly visited him in Florida last month, but the two didn’t dissect the coach’s and the quarterback’s decision to continue playing against the Seahawks on the injured knee.
“There’s a lot of different things that we wish we would’ve done differently as a team,” he said. “I can’t get into that with you guys. That’s a conversation I have to have with Coach, that I will have with Coach.”
“I think the only regret and bitterness is the fact that we lost,” he continued. “We felt like we should’ve won the game. There’s things we could’ve done to win the game. It’s a learning experience for everybody. That’s what it is. When I get back to Redskins Park, I’ll talk to Coach and we’ll move on from there.”
Griffin has been rehabbing in Gulf Breeze, Fla., and said he has sessions twice a day with specialists and then does a third by himself back at the hotel. He said he’ll be visiting Ashburn this week and will split the rest of his rehab between Florida and the Washington area.
“I went through the toughest part already, so it’s now it’s just about being smart, not pushing it too much,” he said. “That’s what the doctors are there for, to keep me from doing too much.”
Griffin has already gone through knee rehabilitation once before. He missed most of his 2009 season at Baylor, recovering from surgery to the same knee. The familiarity with this process, he said, will be helpful as he spends the offseason recovering.
“I can know what peaks and valleys there’s going to be,” he said, “what milestones I need to hit and when I’m gonna hit them and just give me the confidence to know that I can come back better than I was before.”
Griffin’s ability to recover from knee surgery will be one of the NFL’s biggest story lines until training camps open in five months. Such an extensive injury could take a year or more for recovery. But last season, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson tore his anterior cruciate ligament and had surgery on Dec. 30, 2012. He was ready by Week 1, posted 2,097 rushing yards this season and Saturday night was named the AP most valuable player.
Griffin and the Vikings star have already spoken.
“I’ll do my best to give him some great information,” Peterson said. “Of course, everyone heals differently. We all have different mind-sets. Hopefully they come in with the same mind-set that I came in with. It wasn’t easy. People, they’re like, wow, how did it happen? I had to work real hard. . . . Mentally, just believing that you’re going to come back and you’re going to be better. That’s a huge part of it. It sounds cliché, it sounds simple, but you’ve got to believe it in order to accomplish it.”
Even if Griffin’s rehabilitation is smooth and he’s ready by Week 1, his rookie season has set a high bar. In leading the Redskins to their first division title in 13 years, Griffin completed 258 of 393 passes for 3,200 yards, 20 touchdowns and also rushed for 815 yards (a league record for rookies) and seven touchdowns.
He beat out his teammate, running back Alfred Morris, and two other quarterbacks, Indianapolis’s Andrew Luck and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, to win top offensive rookie honors. Griffin earned 29 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 media members, well ahead of Luck’s 11 and Wilson’s 10.
The Redskins hadn’t boasted an offensive rookie of the year since running back Mike Thomas in 1975.
“Times have changed,” Griffin said. “It’s time for us to take that first place like we did this past year in the NFC East, and we’ve just got to keep building from there.”