History lesson: Rivers, Palmer post-ACL

History lesson: Rivers, Palmer post-ACL
September 12, 2013, 11:00 am
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The performance of Robert Griffin III against the Eagles was distressing to many. Whether it was the knee or the quarterback not having enough preparation, he clearly was not the player who won so many accolades in 2012.

How long will it take him to regain his form? We don’t know but we do have some precedents we can look at. Keeping in mind that no two players are alike and that past performance does not guarantee future results, let’s take a look at two quarterbacks who suffered ACL rehabs late in one season and how they fared the next year.

Philip Rivers 2008

The Chargers’ quarterback was 26 when he tore his ACL in the playoffs and he underwent surgery soon after the AFC title game on January 20, 2008. The following August he played in two preseason games and then on September 7 he started the opener at home against the Panthers.

Rivers was sharp right off the bat. He completed 17 of 27 passes for 217 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Chargers’ 26-24 loss to Carolina. Rivers followed it up by passing for 377 yards and three touchdowns the next week in a one-point loss to Mike Shanahan’s Broncos.

During the course of the season Rivers had his ups and downs but he finished strong. The Chargers had to win their last four games to qualify for the playoffs and he led the way, throwing for 1,057 yards with 11 touchdowns and just one interception.

His performance during San Diego’s 4-0 run to the playoffs (a run that knocked the Broncos out of the postseason, costing Shanahan his job) capped one of his best NFL seasons. He led the league with 34 touchdown passes and he threw just 11 interceptions. His passer rating of 105.5 was the best in the NFL and the best of his career so far.

Carson Palmer 2006

At age 27, Palmer suffered perhaps a more devastating knee injury than Griffin did on January 8, 2006 during the Bengals’ loss in the first round of the AFC playoffs. He took a low hit against the Steelers and he tore his ACL, MCL, and also suffered a dislocated kneecap.

He recovered well enough to play in two preseason games and to start the season opener against the Chiefs on September 10, 2006. Palmer’s stat line did not exactly stand out as he completed 13 of 19 passes for 127 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. But he didn’t need to do a whole lot as Rudi Johnson ran for 96 yards and a touchdown and the Cincinnati defense sacked Kansas City quarterbacks seven times and got three turnovers.

Palmer was better in Week 2, completing 60 percent of his passes (24 of 40) for 352 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He had a solid season as he completed 62 percent of his passes for 4,035 yards (the second-highest total of his career) with 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

What does this mean for Griffin?

The comeback seasons for Palmer and Rivers are notable in that they are not extraordinary. If you look down the career stats of each of them (Palmer hereRivers here), their post-ACL injury seasons don’t stand out in any way.

The big difference here is that Rivers and Palmer both played in the preseason and that could—emphasizing could here—have benefitted Griffin. But that’s water under the bridge; they can’t schedule a preseason game now to help him get ready.

But it does bode well for Griffin going forward. It does show that a late ACL does not doom a quarterback to a mediocre season the following year. In fact, a couple of preseason game could be all that’s needed to knock off the proverbial rust.