Sally Jenkins
Sally Jenkins
Columnist

Redskins, Robert Griffin III stake position in NFC East

ARLINGTON, Tex. — Let’s keep this in perspective. They beat a bunch of pageant beauties, a team with more dimples than substance.  Nevertheless, how often does a crowd at Cowboys Stadium chant for the Washington Redskins quarterback, while booing their own team off the field at halftime? How often does a team get a performance in a must-win game like we saw from Robert Griffin III, so predatory and timely?

It’s hard to believe these words are landing in hard type: The Redskins are clearly the second-best team in the NFC East. That’s now established, and the division lead is actually in sight. For all of the holes in their defense, for all of Mike Shanahan’s throw-in-the-towelness, they are alive, and not just breathing through a tube either. This was a status report game, a where-do-we-stand diagnostic. Had they lost, Shanahan’s towel would have stayed thrown. But they’ve won two division games in five days, and not by a little — by a lot. They’ve put up more than 30 points twice in a week. Pick up the towel.

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“It just felt like we were out there showing not only ourselves, but the Cowboys, and everybody, what we were capable of,” Griffin said. “Everybody showed up today ready to go, even with the short week. This is what we have to do: Be ready to play. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Their status is now this: They are poised for a strong last third of the season. They are healthier than they have been: Pierre Garcon’s foot was well enough for him to finally be a factor, and their offensive line is whole. They’ve put up 295 points, more than they scored all of last season (288). And there is not much separating them from the division-leading New York Giants — not much at all. The last time they met, remember, the Giants needed an on-the-money 77-yard scoring pass from Eli Manning with 1 minute 13 seconds to go for a 27-23 victory.

It’s not yet time to anoint the Redskins a sure playoff contender; they aren’t even a .500 team. But they are certainly a tighter, more disciplined, more self-believing and ascendant team than either the Eagles or the Cowboys. And to be honest, after watching the slack, careless, profligate play of the Cowboys for most of three quarters, it’s hard to imagine them recovering from this loss. They are not a team that radiates confidence or consistency; it’s a team of flash powder.

The Cowboys had a golden opportunity to knock out the Redskins, their biggest emotional and division rival, and get to 6-5. A Thursday game at home on Thanksgiving invariably and heavily favors the host, and the Redskins hadn’t won a turkey game since 1973.

But is there a team in the league that annually squanders more talent and opportunity than the Cowboys? Quarterback Tony Romo is all ambling casualness, grinny and impossibly wasteful. Dez Bryant is so gifted it makes his babysitter proud. The shiny-haired Jason Garrett applied his Princeton degree to the problem of how to attack the Redskins’ vulnerable secondary and decided not to go at it early. Instead, he called a bunch of short lobs over the middle. One of which resulted in that second-quarter interception by DeAngelo Hall that set the Redskins up at the Dallas 23, and led to the Redskins’ 28-point explosion.

The Cowboys always look so good, don’t they? Romo was 37 of 62 for 441 yards, numbers that are gaudy on paper. Romo’s numbers were deceptive: He started slow and played leisurely, unable to answer for long stretches while his team fell two, then three, then four scores behind. On one series in the first quarter, they took a false start, and then a delay-of-game while Romo fussed around hitching his shoulders; maybe he was trying to get the line of his jersey right. They moved 10 yards backward without even getting a snap off.  

“Too many bad sequences, didn’t play well on offense and didn’t play well on defense, and didn’t do a good job in the kicking game as well,” Garrett said. 

That about covered it.

You want to see a good quarterback, one with flash and beauty, and substance, and urgency? Griffin, who has thrown eight touchdown passes against just nine incompletions in this week’s two games combined, has become the prettiest piece of wallpaper in the league. He is so dynamic, threatens to make so much happen on every play, that he covers up for all of the Redskins’ weaknesses. He bails them out of even the worst situations — such as Brandon Banks deciding to field a booming 64-yard punt in his end zone, after backpedaling two yards deep, to put the Redskins on their 5-yard line.

It was nothing that couldn’t be cured by Griffin’s eye and arm meeting Aldrick Robinson’s legs for a 68- yard score. Robinson jumped off the line and sprinted past Brandon Carr by 10 yards, and Griffin threw it absolutely as far as he could — fully 60 yards in the air — and at first, it looked like he put too much on it. Actually, he knew his customer. Robinson ran a 4.35 in the NFL combine, and somehow he covered enough green to run under it, and caught it, never slowing.

Among Griffin’s many, many gifts is his ability to summon his sharpest performance when he most needs to. It’s the hallmark of a great player, and it is beginning to imbue the entire organization, on both sides of the ball. One of these days, when the Redskins have become the winner that every arrow is suggesting they will be, they will look back over their shoulders to this week, when they beat two division rivals like a drum, and say it started here.

“Everything seems better when you win,” London Fletcher said. “Whether it’s the food, the Thanksgiving dinner we eat, it tastes a lot better. Injuries heal up a lot faster when you win. It was a good win for us.”

For previous columns by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.

 
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