When the Washington Redskins broke for their bye week after falling to 3-6 two weeks ago, rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III went to his postgame news conference, an edge in his voice, and declared that he would return from the Week 10 break a better quarterback, poised to lead his team on a second-half turnaround.
Speaking to the media Wednesday for the first time since he and his teammates returned to practice this week, Griffin appeared more relaxed. But he reiterated his belief that making the NFL playoffs is a realistic goal.
Griffin declined to say where he spent the bye week, but said he elected to “get away from the familiar” rather than vacation in his home state of Texas. His intent: “Just clear my head, make sure I came back even hungrier.”
He added: “I thought I was hungry before the bye week. But you come back and realize how much more energy you have. . . . You know that everybody’s looking at me to be the guy to make everything work.”
Griffin’s teammates are indeed looking to him to lead their improbable quest to become only the fourth team since 1990 to reach the playoffs after opening a season with a 3-6 record.
As testament, the players observed their midseason tradition of adding a new captain for each side of the ball by selecting Griffin to join the incumbent, Trent Williams, as co-captain of the offense.
“I was trying to think if I’ve ever had a rookie captain. I don’t believe I ever have,” said Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan, in his 19th season at the helm of an NFL team. “You get a guy like Robert Griffin, a rookie coming in, to get voted right away, it’s very hard to vote a rookie to be your captain. But midway through the season, you say, ‘Hey, he’s our leader.’ ”
Griffin took the honor in stride. He has led by example since he walked through the doors at Redskins Park, and has carried the offense so far. But he earned his teammates’ trust by his inclusive manner rather than a sense of entitlement.
“Being the quarterback, you’re going to get a lot of excitement around you, especially in a city like this one,” Griffin said. “They’ve been hungry for a victoryfor a long time. I plan to be the guy to bring it to them, as the leader of the team. But like I’ve told everybody, it’s not just myself out there. All these guys put in a lot of work, and it’s going to pay off. People are going to see.”
Through nine games, Griffin has put up impressive numbers. He ranks ninth in the NFL with a passer rating of 93.9 and eighth with a 65.6 completion percentage. Griffin has passed for eight touchdowns while throwing only three interceptions, and has rushed for another six. Houston running back Arian Foster has rushed for 10, and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, Baltimore's Ray Rice, the Giants’ Andre Brown and Tampa Bay's Doug Martin have rushed for seven apiece.
But Griffin believes that there is more that he can do. He talked about eliminating negative plays and improving his accuracy on passes.
“The way I look at it,” he said, “I’m my hardest critic, and my dad is also my hardest critic. If you have a pass that’s not where it needs to be, you fix that. I’m all about fixing my mistakes. . . . You continue to do what you did to get to this point, whether it’s technique, film work, just being great and approaching every practice like it’s your last practice, like it’s a game.”
According to wide receiver Santana Moss, Griffin continues to do just that.
“I just know the guy’s always been hungry, the guy’s always been direct with everything he tries to do, and he goes to work hard every day,” Moss said.
Washington kicks off a three-game stretch against NFC East opponents Sunday. All three teams are struggling. Philadelphia (3-6) has lost five straight, Dallas (4-5) has lost three of its past five, and New York (6-4) has lost two straight.
The Redskins have little margin for error in their mission to earn their first playoff berth since 2007. But Griffin believes they can dig their way out of the hole little by little.
“For us, the biggest thing is one game at a time,” he said. “You don’t look at the future, because you have to take care of what you have in front of you. So, what am I saying? Yeah, I think playoffs are a realistic goal for us, and there’s not a player in that locker room that doesn’t believe that.”