In only four NFL games, Robert Griffin III has already answered all of our questions. The rookie quarterback has proven he’s advanced for his years at deciphering defenses. He has demonstrated a star’s ability to make big plays with his arm and feet. And there’s no doubt about Griffin’s toughness: He always gets up, albeit sometimes slowly, after being pounded to the ground.
But Griffin’s most important attribute was revealed Sunday during the final, thrilling 1 minute, 42 seconds at Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium. In marching the Redskins 56 yards in six plays (he completed four of four pass attempts and scrambled for a 15-yard gain), Griffin put place kicker Billy Cundiff in position for a game-winning field goal that capped a 24-22 comeback victory over the Buccaneers.
With his masterful late-game performance, Griffin showed he possesses the innate skill to thrive under pressure. That’s what separates the game’s elite quarterbacks from the merely talented. It’s the difference between Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers.
In a league in which quarterbacks are the most important players, the Redskins now have proof that their quarterback is much more than a stat-sheet stuffer. Griffin is a winner. Eventually, he’ll drag the Redskins back to the top.
That’s what the true superstars do. Tom Brady. LeBron James. Derek Jeter. Michael Jordan. When outcomes are undecided and pressure rises, they remain cool. When others commit blunders, the best of the best come through.
For those rare athletes, everything comes into clearer focus during what NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson calls “winnin’ time.”
As he entered the huddle in the final two minutes Sunday, Griffin was unfazed by the circumstances (the Redskins trailed by a point and had the ball at their 20-yard line). Griffin’s headset malfunctioned, so he couldn’t communicate electronically with play-caller Kyle Shanahan. But “none of it bothered him,” wide receiver Santana Moss said. “Man, you’re talking about guys who have that gift. … Robert has that gift.”
Granted, directing a game-winning drive against the Buccaneers in September isn’t the same as delivering a virtuoso performance while battling flu-like symptoms in the NBA Finals, which Jordan once did, or leading teams to Super Bowl titles and World Series championships like Brady and Jeter. The same inner strength is required, however.
“What happens with great players, when the moment arrives, when the stage is big and the lights come on, they just perform,” Redskins inside linebacker London Fletcher said. “On that drive, that was really Robert’s moment to go out and perform.”
Rightfully, Griffin is changing the perception of the Redskins one “this-guy-is-incredible” moment at a time. All those national media predictions about the Redskins still being far, far away from playoff contention? Ignore them. Brush off anyone who dismisses what Griffin accomplished Sunday because the Buccaneers aren’t among the NFL’s better teams. Eyes don’t lie. Griffin is doing everything to inspire confidence that times are indeed changing.
“People are going to look back years from now and realize that what he was doing, what Robert is starting, was laying the foundation for something good for a long time,” said Fletcher, a 15-year veteran, who counsels Griffin. “It’s great that Robert has the incredible skills he has. That’s gonna help him put up great numbers.
“But anyone who has been around this game will tell you that the numbers are only a part of it. What matters, what you talk about when you look back on your career, is, ‘Did I have a chance to win?’ When you have a quarterback like Robert, you have a chance. You have it because he covers up for a whole lot.”
In fact, after watching Griffin lift the entire mediocre Redskins roster, it’s no longer a question of whether the Redskins can become winners again. It’s a matter of when.
The Redskins still have the same problems we’ve known about since the preseason. Their secondary struggles. Their offensive line won’t remind anyone of the famed “Hogs” during the team’s glory days under Joe Gibbs. Without injured Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo, the pass rush has suffered.
Also, the Redskins won’t have a first-round draft pick for the next two years. That’s just part of the cost of getting Griffin – and the Redskins got a steal. No price is too much to get the right quarterback. You think the New York Giants are lamenting that they once gave up a whole bunch for the chance to draft Manning, including sending the draft rights to Rivers to San Diego? Two Super Bowl trophies prove Giants management chose wisely.
Griffin still needs time to develop into the NFL superstar he’s on the road to becoming. The Redskins must improve Griffin’s supporting cast. But for the first time in a long time, it’s finally all coming together for the Redskins. Because of Griffin, we know it now.