The reset button has been hit. The surgically repaired knee feels “great.” The mind is clear and sharp, he says. And Robert Griffin III believes he is poised for a breakout.
The rival Dallas Cowboys welcome Griffin and the Redskins to Texas on Sunday. It was at that site last season where Griffin threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns in what may have been the finest game of his rookie year. That game set the tone for Washington’s run toward its first NFC East title since 1999.
But none of that matters now.
“We have to make sure we go out and not just rely on last year,” Griffin said. “But we have to build a story for this year, and it starts with us being 1-3 right now and trying to get to 2-3 against the Cowboys.”
To author another heroic tale, Griffin will have to orchestrate a complete performance — something that has eluded him so far this season. Two interceptions and a botched pitch in Week 1 kept Washington in check until too late. Poor accuracy and another interception put the quarterback and his crew in another inescapable hole in Week 2. Another slow start followed in Week 3, but things did get going sooner. Griffin fumbled away a shot at a comeback victory late in that game.
Griffin admits the struggles surprised him. He knew he would have to work his way back into form after reconstructive knee surgery during the offseason, but he didn’t expect his progress would be this slow. He expected some scrutiny but didn’t know how much.
Redskins fans’ excitement over the “All in for Week 1” campaign quickly died when Griffin and the Redskins stumbled out of the gates. The emotions shifted to disbelief. Griffin looked like a shell of himself — throwing one fewer interception through three weeks this season than he did all of last season and scarcely running the ball. The high-powered offense he led last year was unrecognizable.
The Redskins finally got their first win two weeks ago, defeating the Oakland Raiders, 24-14, just before their bye week. In that game, Griffin displayed both flashes of his old self and the promise of development. But while some of his teammates lamented the fact their in-season break had come too soon, Griffin readily embraced it.
He went through one final practice with his teammates Oct. 1, chose not to make himself available for interviews with local media and left the area with his wife, seeking the refuge of a quiet Williamsburg resort to recharge.
“I think this bye week, it was more important for me to just get away from everything and kind of let everything die down and let everybody get back to talking about football and not the knee brace, not anything else going on along those lines,” Griffin said Wednesday. “That was the biggest thing for me at that time. That’s the reason I didn’t sit down and talk with you guys or do anything else. I just wanted to get away, go spend some time with my wife and just relax, and it worked.”
Assessing his mental and physical state heading into Sunday’s game, Griffin said, “I feel good, great actually. Rejuvenated.”
He continued: “As a team, I think we’re all just moving on from those first four weeks. We got the win going into the bye, which is real beneficial to us. But aside from that we didn’t really play like we know we can play. So we just have got to get back to being us, and that’s kind of the approach I took as well over the bye: just relax my mind and get back to being myself.”
Griffin began showing signs during the two games leading up to the bye week that he is closer to recapturing his form.
“He’s getting back to his old ways,” said wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who despite his loyalty to Griffin had been the most adamant voice within the Redskins organization that the quarterback was not himself in the first few weeks of the season. “He’s making plays, moving around, and it’s definitely a good thing for us, good thing for him and positive thing to look forward to.”
In a 21-yard scramble against Detroit on Sept. 22, Griffin displayed improving mobility and elusiveness — even if he did fumble at the end of the play because he dived head-first instead of sliding feet first.
In the comeback win over the Raiders, Griffin demonstrated improved confidence and comfort as a passer. He didn’t get spooked by the pass rush and instead remained in the pocket, planted on his back leg and drove the ball downfield when he threw it. He also used his legs to elude pass-rushers and bought his receivers time to get open for crucial gains.
“There are a lot of signs that show he is getting better every week,” Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon said. “A lot of it was mental and psychological, just getting over those hurdles of, ‘Can I stand in here and throw in this pocket while there are five collisions going on in front of me? Can I stand here and make these throws when I’m coming off of a major knee surgery?’
“By that fourth game, you were seeing him start to be competitive more early,” Moon added. “The speed and intensity of the game, he was starting to match that, whereas in those first games, he wasn’t matching that speed, because early in games, those games start fast and he hadn’t played.”
Griffin stopped short of declaring he’s back. But he did view the plays in the Oakland victory as crucial to his own confidence and that of his teammates and coaches.
“I think it was important for everybody to see that,” he said. “They get more comfortable to call various plays because they feel like I can go out there and do it. So I just want to give everybody that confidence. For me, I always know I can make those plays if the opportunity arises, and they did in that Oakland game. So hopefully that’ll put everybody at ease, and we can go move forward with the year.”
The bye week marked the nine-month mark since Griffin’s knee surgery. Despite the struggles, Griffin said the first four weeks of action were invaluable — particularly as he now approaches a crucial game against the division-leading Cowboys.
“The only way to come back from an injury like that is to play, and that’s what we had to do,” Griffin said. “I feel good about what we were able to do from a groundwork standpoint, building up each game, but now it’s time for us to make that breakthrough, and we have to do it.”