On Sunday, perhaps, they will begin to learn whether they are a threat to contend in their own division this season. Griffin’s first NFC East game comes on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions, who occupy first place with a record of 4-2. They haven’t played consistently well this season, but they’re coming off a lopsided, highly impressive win at San Francisco last Sunday.
“It’s always a big game any time you’re playing a divisional game,” said Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. “The closer you get to November and December, they become bigger and more meaningful because that kind of sets people up for the playoffs. But a divisional game is almost like two games. You knock somebody off in your division a little bit, set the tone and then obviously we’d be in first place.”
There was a bit of back-and-forth banter during the week, with Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul issuing a long-range warning to Griffin not to run the ball to Pierre-Paul’s side of the field. When told about that comment by Pierre-Paul, Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said: “I don’t know why he would say something about that. Maybe he knows something I don’t.”
But there also was respect for Griffin voiced by Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. After saying during the offseason that Griffin needed to earn his “RGIII” nickname and dubbing him “Bob” in the meantime, Umenyiora said during the week that Griffin already has played well enough in his short time in the NFL to be called “Sir Robert.”
Once the talk ends, the Redskins know they must keep the Giants’ celebrated pass rush from turning Griffin’s first divisional game into a miserable experience.
“They do have the best [defensive] front four that the league has to offer and it’s a huge challenge,” Williams said. “We have to go in and play well. Their front four is the reason they win championships.”
The Redskins totaled only 11 wins in Coach Mike Shanahan’s two seasons before Griffin’s arrival. But they managed to beat the Giants twice last season, even while they won only three other games.
“We’re focusing on this one and trying to set the tone because obviously we know they’re defending champs and they’re going to come out with everything they have, especially with us beating them twice last year,” Alexander said. “They didn’t like that at all, especially with people saying, ‘Well, you lost to the Redskins twice.’ Hearing that, you know you’re going to get their best effort.”
Said Redskins fullback Darrel Young: “We almost potentially knocked them out of the playoffs if they didn’t beat the Jets and the Cowboys in their last two games. Of course it’s on their minds and they want to get revenge.”
Bowen said he thinks last season’s two victories mean the Redskins will have a bit more respect from the Giants entering the game. But Williams expressed skepticism that last season’s two wins will have any lasting effect.
“I don’t even think they would remember something like that,” Williams said. “I mean, they won the Super Bowl, obviously. So you do something like that, you kind of forget about all the bad things that happened that season.”
Even so, Williams declared, “It’s a huge game, definitely.”
The Redskins point out that they’ve had other decent starts to seasons before Griffin arrived. And no matter what happens Sunday, they will continue to believe that their future with Griffin is bright. But there is an ever-growing sense of anticipation every time he takes the field, and the Redskins can only hope the memorable moments already orchestrated by Griffin continue to pile up Sunday.
“It feels good to just be a different team,” Young said. “It’s a new year, a fresh start for everybody. We’re doing some of the little things that we needed to work on last year. We’re still trying to get better.”