Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck battle to a draw

August 25, 2012

The only truly meaningful head-to-head matchup in Saturday’s so-called “QB Showdown,” as the marketing whizzes and TV execs billed the first on-field matchup of rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III , was the one that pitted reality versus fantasy.

The fantasy: What if the Indianapolis Colts had unexpectedly taken Griffin instead of Luck with the first overall pick of the NFL Draft back in April, leaving Luck to the Washington Redskins at No. 2?

The reality: If either player wished to prove anything Saturday afternoon, with their starting jobs already sealed and the regular season two weeks away, it was merely that their respective teams wound up with the right man.

By that measure, Luck-vs.-Griffin played out to a near-draw, with both 22-year-old rookies flashing moments of brilliance that validated their lofty pedigrees during the Redskins’ 30-17 victory at FedEx Field. Both teams could walk away satisfied with what they saw from their rookie field generals and dream just as vividly about what their futures might hold.

Would you trade one for the other, straight-up, after what you saw Saturday? Griffin, who beat out Luck for the Heisman Trophy eight months ago, completed 11 of 17 passes to eight different receivers for 74 yards and a touchdown. Luck was 14 of 23 for 151 yards and one touchdown. Neither threw an interception (Griffin has yet to throw one this preseason).

Their passer ratings were nearly identical: 94.7 for Luck, 93.8 for Griffin. Luck was sacked twice; Griffin avoided any sacks, but overthrew his receivers on all three long balls he attempted.

Both engineered lengthy scoring drives that ended with perfectly executed touchdown passes – Luck’s on a 31-yard floater to T.Y. Hilton, Griffin’s on a four-yard rollout strike to Santana Moss.

But if you turned out or tuned in to determine which quarterback is better, you had no clearer answer than you did before the game. The differences between Luck and Griffin were less about statistical comparisons than matters of taste -- the former’s preternatural poise and precision, the latter’s breathtaking athleticism and slingshot arm – just as they always have been.

Griffin showed poise of his own under occasional pressure from Indianapolis’s defense, much more than he had at Chicago the week before. Luck, who is two inches taller and 17 pounds heavier, scrambled effectively on occasion.

Griffin makes defenders miss with astonishing frequency, but it’s the ones who don’t that will keep the Redskins’ coaches up at night. At the end of the Redskins’ first offensive series, Griffin was blindsided by a blitzing linebacker, Jerrell Freeman, who drove his shoulders into Griffin’s ribs and plowed him into the ground – the hardest hit Griffin has taken all preseason. For a moment, Griffin didn’t move – only to pop up, tugging at his helmet, before jogging to the sideline.

But Griffin would not take another direct hit the entire game. His elusiveness paid dividends on various scrambles and rollouts. It was on one such rollout that Griffin displayed the one skill Luck can never hope to match.

It was second-and-goal from the Colts’ four-yard line, late in the second quarter, the type of red-zone situation that allows a mobile quarterback to create space where there is none. From the shotgun, Griffin hauled in a high snap from center Will Montgomery and sprinted to his right, green space suddenly everywhere. Run or pass? The Colts appeared to guess run, and Griffin lofted a soft pillow of a pass towards Moss, who caught it as he crossed the goal line.

Griffin high-stepped towards his bench for 10 yards, kneeled down, said a quick prayer and pointed to the sky. On the Colts’ bench, Luck stood up, slipped on his helmet and buckled his chin strap.

If we’re lucky, they will be answering each other’s exploits for the next 15 years – perhaps even someday in a game that counts.

Dave Sheinin has been covering baseball and writing features and enterprise stories for The Washington Post since 1999.
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