The pressure was bound to mount after Robert Griffin III’s impressive first NFL game, when he put up the best numbers in a debut by a rookie quarterback in league history.
Sure enough, there was Griffin with a bright red bull’s-eye on his chest as his Washington Redskins faced the St. Louis Rams in Week 2 of the NFL season. The Rams players made it clear prior to the game that their goal was to be physical with the young quarterback.
They hit him hard as he stood in the pocket and passed, and did it some more at the ends of runs (once drawing a late-hit call). One time, Griffin took a forearm to the back of the head from Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar even after the quarterback had already slid to avoid a tackle. That play wasn’t flagged, however.
“There was some extracurricular stuff going on after the plays,” Griffin said Wednesday. “They were doing a lot of dirty things. . . . They made it a point, obviously, all week to hit me. Some of the shots were cheap and of that nature, but it’s nothing that I can control.”
Griffin continued to get up after the big licks he took Sunday and turned in another solid performance, completing 20 of 29 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for 82 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. He did throw his first NFL interception — on the snap that followed the blow to his head — when, Griffin acknowledged, he tried too hard to make a play — and the Redskins lost, 31-28.
But Griffin gave his team a shot at the victory. And with the defense now missing two of its leading players, linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Adam Carriker, along with starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather, the Redskins likely will need more big performances from Griffin and the offense.
Coming into the season, the Redskins expected that their defense would have to carry the offense as Griffin and his new receivers became acclimated to each other and Kyle Shanahan’s system.
Through two games, however, the offense has been the stronger unit. Entering their Week 3 home opener against Cincinnati, Washington’s offense ranks first in the league in scoring (34.0 points a game) and fourth in total yards (416 yards per game).
The defense, on the other hand, has allowed 405 yards a game (28th in the NFL) and 31.5 points per outing (27th).
“You like the way our offense is putting up points. They’re giving us more than enough points to win both of these ballgames,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “But this past game, we didn’t hold our end of the bargain. But it’s a good thing. The offense, they feel like they can do more. The defense, we feel like we can play better.”
It’s still very early, but the Redskins’ offensive numbers reflect significant change from last season, when they averaged 336.7 yards per game (16th) and 18.0 points a game (26th).
Griffin wasn’t satisfied with his second outing, saying Sunday, “We lost the game, so I didn’t play well enough. I didn’t make enough plays.”
The quarterback said he stewed over the loss Monday and Tuesday, then turned his attention to the Bengals, whom he’ll face Sunday.
“I know some guys say, ‘You’ve got 14 more to get over that one.’ But I always take it one game at a time because you never know if you’re going to get that next one,” Griffin said. “I just try to go back, pay attention to detail. I’m usually not in a great mood after losses. We had a day off, so I was able to get that out of my system.”
Griffin doesn’t expect the pressure on him to ease. The Bengals now have two games worth of film to dissect. Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis said of stopping Griffin, “Well, you really have to play very, very disciplined football. Everybody has to get their job done.”
Griffin is currently on pace for 160 carries. That significantly tops the career-high of oft-injured scrambling quarterback Michael Vick, and would be much more than Cam Newton’s rookie total of 126 last season.
But Griffin and Coach Mike Shanahan said the quarterback’s rushing attempts will fluctuate from game to game depending on defensive schemes. Griffin doesn’t believe he will actually hit that 160-carry total.
But if he does, then so be it, he says. He intends to continue to do whatever it takes to win, regardless of how big a target opponents place on him.
“Teams are going to try to hit me because they don’t think I can take a hit. I think I’ve proved that over my career that I can. It’s football,” Griffin said. “I remember one time after the play, the guy said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to hit you every play.’ And I said, ‘Isn’t this football?’ ”
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