- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Once the regular season starts, there’s hardly a player in the NFL who could be classified as “healthy.” It’s a game of bumps and bruises, nicks and dings, stingers and strains — and worse. The only question that really matters is: Can you or can’t you play with a particular injury?

The answer differs from player to player and sometimes from situation to situation. Terrell Owens, you may recall, played in the Super Bowl seven weeks after having two screws and a plate put in his broken right ankle . But would he have played so soon if the game were against a team with the worst record in the league? I suspect not. (Unless he really wanted to pad his stats.)

Which brings us to the Redskins and their 25-22 loss to the previously 0-5 Titans. Could this damaging defeat have been avoided if the team’s two ailing defensive tackles, Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a, had decided — against all good sense — to play hurt? Would a partially effective Griffin and Salave’a have done better job of plugging the middle than the two players who replaced them, rookies Kedric Golston and Anthony Montgomery? You’d have to think so. You’d have to think that with Nos. 96 and 95 in the lineup, or even one of them, the Titans would have rushed for less than 194 yards , perhaps significantly less. And that might have tipped the balance of the game.

I mention this not to cast aspersions on Griffin and Salave’a, two stalwart fellows, but to call attention to one of the many things that can affect the course of a season. The Redskins are 2-4 and reeling right now, but they could be 3-3 and rebounding — had their starting DTs suited up Sunday.

Joe Gibbs, understandably touchy on the subject, says there’s no way he held them out to save them for the unbeaten Colts this week. But could anybody blame him if he had? He needs Griffin and Salave’a to be roarin’ for the stretch run, and both have the kind of injury — a strained hip flexor for Cornelius, a strained calf for Joe — that can linger if you keep playing on it.

“Never, ever have I held a guy out [who could have played],” he says. “This was one of the most important games for us. You never want to lose to anybody who’s 0-5. [But football] is not a game for somebody who’s hurt.”

In the NFL, though, as we all know, there’s hurt and there’s hurt. John Riggins, his discs discombobulated from so many collisions with linebackers, was put in traction on more than one occasion so he could play in a game. (Other weeks, he’d seek relief for his aching back by hanging upside down in gravity boots — like Count Dracula.)

I asked Bubba Tyer, the Redskins director of sports medicine, whether Griffin and Salave’a would have been crazy to play against Tennessee. “Crazy?” he said. “Oh, I don’t know. We deemed they weren’t ready to play. We’ll try to get them ready to play this week.”

Me: “Have you seen defensive linemen play with worse injuries than theirs?”

He: “I’m not going to answer that question.”

Again, I’m not accusing the two tackles of shirking their responsibility. Not at all. But I am suggesting that had Coach Joe gone to them last week and said, “We really need you Sunday,” they would have buckled their chinstraps and hit the field. Not because it would have made sense medically — nothing in football makes sense medically — but because they’re team players.

This week, of course, there’s no doubt about Griffin’s and Salave’a’s availability — not in their minds, at least. As Salave’a told my colleague David Elfin, it’s not an issue of whether they are better now, health-wise. “We have to be better,” he said. The circumstances, in other words, demand it.

So Griffin and Salave’a likely will start Sunday in Indianapolis, even though the Redskins will be decided underdogs. Had they toughed it out against the Titans, however, and then taken two weeks off to regroup — the bye week follows Indy — both they and the team might have been in better shape.

We just don’t know. Heck, even House, the omniscient TV doctor, probably doesn’t know. What we do know is this: With their two D-tackles watching from the sideline, the Redskins lost a game they couldn’t afford to lose. Now they’re really up against it.

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