Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III’s impressive debut in his first NFL game Sunday left D.C. football fans elated, opponent quarterbacks “proud” and sports writers falling over themselves with hyperbolic descriptions. RGIII, an ESPN caption read, is “about to stupefy us all with his mind and his talent.” As the Post’s Dave Sheinin put it, “the Redskins simply have not witnessed anything like this game in a long, long time, and have never witnessed anyone like Griffin … in roughly forever.”
Not that the hyperbole wasn’t warranted. Only one rookie quarterback in history (Fran Tarkenton in 1961) has had a better passing rating. Griffin completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and the team’s 40 points are the most scored by the Redskins since Mike Shanahan became coach. Mike Wise reported former quarterback Sonny Jurgensen to have said that this was the “best I’ve ever seen a quarterback play in his first game,” at the entrance to the visiting locker room after the game.
But besides the elation, the awe and the exaltation, Griffin’s performance Sunday is likely to leave his teammates with an emotion they haven’t felt in a very long time: confidence. A breakout start like Sunday’s should leave the team with so much self-respect, enthusiasm and faith in their ability to win that it raises the level of everyone’s game. Veteran players were giving him credit. No one was trying to talk about the team. And based on the game’s coverage, everyone in burgundy and gold—from his teammates to his coach—seemed just as giddy as Griffin himself, so excited by the moment that he wouldn’t put the ball down.
For the Redskins, that kind of energy and mettle is all the more infectious because it comes from one of their peers. Knowing they have a quarterback with that kind of talent and that kind of serenity on the field gives them the kind of confidence no coach can completely offer. Especially in football, players need to know the person who leads them on the field has the right abilities for the job. When that’s not present, second-guessing takes place. Uncertainty reigns. And everyone tries to make up for what isn’t happening by taking risks of their own.
Of course, Griffin wasn’t the only one who played well in Sunday’s opener. Rookie running back Alfred Morris looks like a winner. The defense played well. And of course, Griffin’s game may not stay at this level: There are bound to be interceptions and bad calls, dropped balls and injuries. But for now, on-the-field leadership in the form of talent-driven confidence, steady poise and sincere enthusiasm appears to be just what the Redskins need.
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