Assuming he maintains his current path, he’s at least headed toward Pro Bowl status. But with each new thrill Griffin provides for the Washington Redskins and their fans, he appears to be sprinting toward something bigger. He has left the gates of his NFL career faster than many Hall of Famers, and one day Griffin — who is obviously still only getting started — could catch up with them.
Griffin moved to the head of the rookie class of quarterbacks with a breakout debut against the New Orleans Saints. He has pulled away each week while outperforming Andrew Luck, whom the Indianapolis Colts selected one spot ahead of Griffin in the 2012 draft. He’s fast approaching membership in the exclusive top-of-the-game club that includes Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Eli and Peyton Manning.
And no quarterback is having a bigger impact on his team’s fortunes. The shaky Redskins might be winless without Griffin, whose performance has, for the most part, masked their deficiencies along the offensive line and in the passing game. (Though not even Griffin could cover up for the Redskins’ porous secondary.)
In the most difficult team sport, Griffin is “doing it by himself,” injured linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “Man, that’s just not something that happens in the NFL. But he’s doing it. . . . and taking the league by storm.”
Wide receiver Santana Moss describes Griffin this way: “The truth.”
“When guys I know [players on other teams] watch him, that’s the first thing they say to me: ‘Buddy over there with the Redskins is the truth.’ It’s like they’re seeing something for the first time. I mean, guys just know,” Moss said.
“He goes out and just keeps making plays. Just when you think he can’t do something [even bigger], he does. Really, man, I don’t like to get too far ahead because I don’t want to put more pressure on him. But, yeah, I’ve thought about it. You think about where he could wind up.”
For Griffin to make it as big as it gets, he’ll have to win. And win with flair. That’s how the iconic quarterbacks in NFL history have rolled.
Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw each directed their teams to four Super Bowl victories. John Elway was known for fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. Even quarterbacks such as Troy Aikman and Bart Starr, who benefited greatly from power running games among the best of their eras, were clutch playoff performers.
Great statistics get you to the door. They don’t always get you through it because “there’s nothing more important than winning,” inside linebacker London Fletcher said. “When you look at a quarterback’s career, guys, players, don’t talk about what his numbers were.
“They talk about what type of a leader he was. They talk about how he led his team in those tough times that always happen in games. The statistics just aren’t that big a part of it.”
Mike Shanahan is convinced that Griffin will have a spectacular career. “There’s no question about that,” the Redskins’ coach said.
The best quarterbacks all share certain traits, Shanahan said. They put team goals ahead of individual accomplishments, are the hardest workers on the team and never give up. Guess who that sounds like?
“We looked at him inside and out. We didn’t see any flaws as a person and we didn’t see any flaws relative to the way he played football,” Shanahan said. “But what you don’t know is what type of guy you’re dealing with.
“Until you actually spend time, through wins and losses, and see how people react to their teammates, you really don’t know for sure just how far the guy can go. But the more I’m around Robert, the more I like him every day. That says it all.”
Griffin has talent, smarts and drive. Presumably, there’s nothing holding him back. A major injury would be an unforeseen hurdle.
Longevity is important in legacy-building, especially in professional sport’s most violent workplace. Many players have had once-promising careers cut short by injury. Some who resumed playing after healing were never quite the same.
Griffin has taken fewer chances after suffering a concussion against Atlanta on Oct. 7, “but you can’t play not to get hurt,” Moss said. “You gotta be smart, and he will be, but he has to be who he is. That’s gonna make him who he’ll be in this game.”
We’ll keep watching as Griffin gets it all figured out. Just don’t be surprised if the ride gets a whole lot better before it finally ends.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.