Robert Griffin III gives Redskins a legitimacy that shouldn’t be written off

The Post Sports Live crew predicts whether Robert Griffin III will have more touchdowns, rushing yards and a better completion rate this season compared to his stats from his last year. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)
Thomas Boswell
Columnist September 6, 2013

There’s disrespect in sports and then there’s just a downright in-your-face insult. I get it when ESPN.com’s baseball page says that the Nationals have only a 3.4 percent chance to make the playoffs. But when the Post sports section runs “Odds to win Super Bowl XLVIII” and Washington is the 15th pick at 35-to-1 (2.9 percent) my eyes roll back in my head.

As this NFL season arrives, many of the serious national odds-makers, pundits and pickers have systematically snubbed the Redskins. Those who are betting real money certainly have. A Las Vegas-affiliated Web site reports that Washington is going off as the 15th-rated favorite at 33-to-1 (3.3 percent).

Tom Boswell is a Washington Post sports columnist. View Archive

Hasn’t anybody ever heard of Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Williams? Has Mike Shanahan’s résumébeen forgotten? The NFL is (repeat after me) a quarterback league, a head coach league, a playmaker league, a pass-rusher league and a left-tackle league. The Redskins have ’em. There aren’t 14 teams better stocked at those spots, no way.

Washington has holes. But the Redskins also have their best quarterback since Sonny Jurgensen, their best coach since Joe Gibbs I, a 1,600-yard rusher, a deep threat receiver, a big-play tight end, two scary edge rushers and a Pro Bowl left tackle. In Kai Forbath they may have their most accurate place kicker, relative to the standards of his era, since Mark Moseley.

These are Key Spots in the NFL. If you cross your fingers and say, “London Fletcher still has one more good season left in him” as fast as you can, then maybe they have that crucial QB-mind-reading linebacker, too.

The Post Sports Live crew offers predictions for which players will be the offensive and defensive MVPs, the unsung hero and more. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

All right, I know they gave up 388 points and (gulp) 4,511 passing yards. I didn’t say they should be Super Bowl favorites, or second or third or fourth. I just said that you have to be nuts to think an RGIII-Shanny team that’s the defending NFC East champion and won its last seven games (some with Griffin gimpy) has only one-fifth the chance at the Lombardi Trophy as the Seahawks (7 to 1). Yes, that Seattle, a team the Redskins were manhandling in the playoffs when Griffin re-injured his knee. Both the Cowboys and Giants get better odds than Washington. The losing Saints and .500 Steelers get more credit. In fact, every single team for which you could make any credible case is favored over the Redskins.

What’s up? Is virtually everyone in Washington completely blind to a multitude of Redskins flaws? Does the smart money know that RGIII’s knee isn’t really healed; or that an antidote for the read option has been found; or that Bad Mike has gone soft and turned into Sunshine Shanny?

Put me down for “none of the above.” What we’ve got is entrenched Redskins Hating — building for 20 years, often for good reason. It dies hard.

Old habits cling like kudzu, especially when they’ve been good to you. For eons in sports-media time it’s been fashionable, and flattering, to pick against Washington. No franchise wasted more money, did more preseason bragging (then seldom backed it up) or had an owner who was easier to caricature as a meddling football know-nothing than Washington, the NFL Offseason Champions.

What the Caps did a few times with Rock The Red chest-thumping and the Nats did once with “World Series or Bust” — that is, set themselves up to be targets — the FedEx folks did a dozen times since Super Bowl XXVI.

Last month visiting Seattle, West Coast friends reminded me of how “typically Redskin” the RGIII-Shanahan knee-suicide-pact seemed to be: the epitome of a team that is its own worst enemy.

So, in the face of what I see as temporarily distorted perception, put me down this season as “long the Redskins.” For decades, Washington has dreamed of a great quarterback — not a good one, but a great one who can be among the half-dozen best in the league for 10 to 15 years. Such creatures fundamentally change franchises. At least that’s what we say whenever somebody else has Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. Last year, he arrived. Do the 35-to-1 people think Griffin is still horizontal on the gouged heath of FedEx Non-Field?

No, they just choose to ignore his recovery. Somewhere there is someone dim enough to think that RGII’s knee is not 99.9-percent healed; but that person has not been exposed to the Post’s occasional coverage of this joint; or, during warmups, seen Griffin sprint from end zone to end zone, doing a handspring into a triple back flip with a halfgainer.

In his debut last year, Griffin completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, plus 42 yards on nine rushes as Washington scored the first 40 of its 436 points. Just a wild guess, but RGIII might have some such benchmark in mind for Monday night against the Eagles, minus a few of those rushes. In two victories over Philly last year, one while limping, Griffin completed 30 of 39 passes for 398 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. See, admit it: You’ve talked and heard so much about his knee, you almost forgot how good a player he was.

Only Rodgers and Manning had slightly higher quarterback ratings than Griffin’s 102.4. RGIII ranked first in yards-per-pass-attempt. Only Rodgers, Manning and Matt Ryan were slightly more accurate than his 65.6 percent, and Griffin tied Brady for the NFL lead in lowest interception rate (1.3). Those are passing (not rushing) statistics for a rookie. The threat, and reality, of his legs helped his general efficiency. But he was also just starting to learn the Shanahans’ offense. It’s assumed that hot rookie quarterbacks will become more accurate passers, less interception prone, better readers of defenses and better game callers with experience.

And why, exactly, shouldn’t that apply to Griffin, too?

The Redskins are more than RGIII. But they are Griffin, first and foremost, just as the Pats and Broncos are Brady and Manning before all else. Griffin’s return, presumably in fine health, is the main reason why the Redskins, though not Super Bowl favorites by a long shot, aren’t any darn 35-to-1 either.

For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell .

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