Robert Griffin III needed a first down, so he took off and leapt into the air to get it. Three Carolina Panthers defenders converged and made the stop, but not until after Griffin finished what he set out to do, sore ribs or not.
“If it’s fourth-and-4, it’s worth anything,” the Washington Redskins rookie quarterback said without hesitation. “It doesn’t matter what the score is, how much time is left in the game. You make that decision in the heat of the moment.”
Griffin wasn’t injured on that play, but it was a prime opportunity for something bad to happen. That kind of thing has happened to Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick more than a few times over the years.
Vick, whom Griffin has been compared to perhaps more than any other player because of his electric ability to take off with the ball, has missed 21 games with injuries during his NFL career and is about to hit No. 22 against the Redskins after suffering a concussion Sunday.
“I think any quarterback that runs in this league, you’re open. Once you get out of that pocket, you’re free game, just like a running back will be,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “Robert’s seeing the same thing. You play the style that they play, you’re going to take some hits.”
“I don’t know if you can answer that question in the National Football League. You’re always hoping people can stay healthy,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “I think Robert has gotten much better knowing when to slide, throw the ball away, different things that we talked about earlier in the season. And you’re always trying to keep away from those concussions, those head injuries.”
Or just injuries in general. Vick broke two ribs, suffered a concussion and hurt his hand in 2011, suffered a rib cartilage injury in 2010, bruised a quadriceps muscle in 2009 and broke his right fibula in 2003. Throw in a few knee, back and shoulder injuries, and Vick hasn’t been able to stay on the field much.
“He’s been hit more than any other quarterback in the National Football League,” Redskins defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. “Of course, he lends himself [to injury] because he can hurt you with his legs. You don’t really want your quarterbacks taking hits, but you can tell he’s a fearless competitor and wants to do anything he can to win. So sometimes instead of sliding he might stay in there a little longer and so defenders are able to get a shot on him.”
Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan argued that Vick gets hit a lot in the pocket, not on the run, so it’s unfair to criticize the oft-injured quarterback’s style. Defensive end Stephen Bowen said Vick’s not trying to get hurt on purpose. “It’s just the way the chips are falling for him,” he said.
Too often, he leaves himself wide-open.
“When the pocket breaks down, you don’t know where people are going to be coming from in relation to pass rushing and linebackers,” Redskins safety Reed Doughty said. “You can extend a play and create some plays down the field, but at the same time you can take some big shots.”
Vick and Griffin are far from the only quarterbacks now or in the past who hurt defenses by escaping the pocket and taking off. But Vick is 6 feet and listed at 215 pounds. Cam Newton, who set the rookie quarterback rushing record last season with 706 yards, is 6-5, 245.
“The difference just is the size of a guy like Vick compared to Cam Newton,” Doughty said. “You’re going to hit him the same. It’s just what the effect of that is. He’s a tough guy. Just at  pounds, it’s just different.”
“Football’s a violent game. Vick, he’s been beat up a little bit throughout his career,” Griffin said. “There’s other quarterbacks that get beat up throughout their career. There’s a number of quarterbacks right now that are out with either concussions, shoulder injuries, anything like that. I try to stay away from the different comparisons.”
But his willingness to play on the edge for the sake of winning makes it a possibility.
“Injuries are a hard thing to explain. Some of them are freak injuries; some of them it’s hard to know whether you could’ve avoided it or not,” Redskins backup quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “To this point, Robert’s done a good job of staying healthy.”
“It’s just about being there for your teammates. You only get to play football for so long. Things like that can give you perspective,” Griffin said. “My health and well-being beyond football is more important than that one play. You have to know when to do things like that. The refs are going to do their best job to protect you, your teammates are going to do their best job to protect you, but you also have to protect yourself.”
Rich Campbell contributed to this report.