Robert Griffin III is NFL offensive rookie of the year, and it’s no contest

December 24, 2012

It’s time to end a national sports debate that never should have started. The supposedly wide-open competition for the NFL’s offensive rookie-of-the-year award is actually a one-horse race — and the winner has already crossed the finish line. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III deserves the trophy as much for his impact on the entire league as his uplifting effect on the team and its fans.

No other rookie — not even Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck nor Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who are widely considered Griffin’s main competitors for the honor — has performed as consistently as Griffin while shouldering as much responsibility for his team’s success. And Griffin, at least in his first year, has actually exceeded the stadium-size expectations that accompanied the record price of those four high-round draft picks the Redskins paid to get him.

Of all the numbers that illustrate Griffin’s importance to the Redskins, here’s the best: Zero. That’s how many NFC East championships the team has won in the past 13 seasons. Washington will host Dallas on Sunday night in a winner-claims-the-title finale that simply wouldn’t have occurred without Griffin.

After more years of being an NFL afterthought than its supporters would care to remember, Washington rocketed back to relevance in 2012 because of Griffin’s ability to pass and run better than any first-year quarterback in the game’s history.

“He’s a tremendous threat in both,” said New York Giants Coach Tom Coughlin , echoing the sentiment of frustrated coaches throughout the league. “Have we worked against a guy that’s as fast and elusive as Robert? No.”

Each week, opponents focus their efforts on shutting down Griffin’s highlight-film performances. They study countless hours of tape in the hope of grounding him. But Griffin keeps on rising. “It’s like telling Superman not to fly,” Baltimore superstar safety Ed Reed said.

The Redskins became a factor on the field again during their current, stunning six-game winning streak. With Griffin injured, backup quarterback Kirk Cousins played well late in one of the victories and had a superb start during another. Some might argue that Cousins’s performances showed Griffin isn’t as important to the Redskins as he seems. But anyone who thinks that simply doesn’t understand the Griffin Effect.

The Redskins now expect to win. No matter the opponent, they believe they will. Griffin’s performance has inspired his teammates to believe more in themselves. “Early on, it was like, ‘Wow, we’ve got a great quarterback,’ ” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “Now you look around and say, ‘We’ve got a great team and we’re all doing this together.’ Robert got us going. Every guy on our team has built on it.”

The Griffin Effect spread quickly. The District is abuzz about the franchise that defines it as a sports city more than any other.

Rooting for our favorite teams inspires a feeling of community. When the top ballclub in town is riding high, it seems that everyone is a little friendlier and the commute to the office isn’t as long. Heck, even the water-cooler chatter is more interesting. Life around these parts is a whole lot better when the Redskins are winning. That’s why Griffin’s approval rating is 100 percent.

“Everywhere you go, you get that sense that everyone is excited and behind us, and Robert definitely has a lot to do with that,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “I’ve been around here when it was definitely the other way.”

In their previous 19 seasons, the Redskins had only five winning records. They missed the playoffs 16 times. That came after an 11-season stretch in which the Redskins finished above .500 in all but one season, made eight playoff appearances, played in four Super Bowls and won three.

In the NFL, the Oakland Raiders are the only once-great organization that has fallen harder, and stayed down longer, than the Redskins. That’s the bad history Griffin has overcome in leading Washington to within one victory of its first playoff appearance since the 2007 season.

Before missing the playoffs last season, Indianapolis, which has already clinched a playoff berth, qualified 11 times in 12 seasons. Seattle was a playoff team as recently as the 2010 season and made it every season from 2003 to ’07. Luck and Wilson didn’t have nearly as much heavy lifting to do as Griffin did.

Statistically, Luck and Wilson aren’t in Griffin’s league.

Griffin is tied for second in the NFL with a 104.1 passer rating (Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers leads at 106.2). Griffin tops all passers in yards per attempt at 8.3 and has thrown 20 touchdown passes with only five interceptions.

He also established a rookie rushing record with 752 yards and added another six touchdowns on the ground. It’s unheard-of for an experienced quarterback to be so proficient at both making wise decisions with the football and producing big plays.

Luck set the single-season record for passing yards for first-year players. But he’s also tied for the league lead with 18 interceptions and has only a 75.6 passer rating.

Wilson has come on strong in the second half of the season after Seattle brought him along slowly. The Seahawks’ offense, however, is built around running back Marshawn Lynch, the NFL’s second-leading rusher.

Then there’s Seattle’s formidable defense. The Seahawks give up a league-low average of 15.5 points. They rank fourth in yards relinquished and collect turnovers in bunches. A productive running game and a stout defense are a quarterback’s best friends. As great as Seattle’s defense is, Wilson usually rolls out of bed with the offense in outstanding field position. He has a security blanket in Lynch.

It’s the other way around for Griffin. The pressure Griffin puts on the defense has helped to open holes for talented rooking running back Alfred Morris, who is fourth in the NFL in rushing. Washington’s defense has been mostly solid during the streak. Still, it is 28th out of 32 teams in yards. Griffin has had to overcome all of the big plays Washington’s defense gives up.

“When you talk about a defense that’s close to dead last, and all the things Robert brings to the table running and passing the ball, the whole rookie thing is really no contest,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “Robert’s the guy. It’s obvious.”

Sometimes sportswriters and sportscasters have too much time on their hands. That’s how ridiculous discussions get started. All you have to do is look on the field to figure out who’s the top rookie — and that’s where you’ll find Griffin.

For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times.
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