TAMPA — There was 1 minute 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter, his team down by a point, and Robert Griffin III was pacing the Washington Redskins’ sideline as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prepared to kick off. From the 30-yard line, up to the 40, a pivot, and back to the 30, another pivot, back to the 40. Teammates and coaches patted him on the back or tapped his helmet. Griffin kept pacing.
When the ball was spotted at the Redskins 20-yard line, Griffin kneeled by the sideline, quickly crossed himself, pointed to the sky and jogged to the huddle, a portrait in confidence and focus.
Griffin’s reaction to the end of the Redskins’ winning drive — a 41-yard field goal by place kicker Billy Cundiff with three seconds left for a 24-22 victory — was one of unrestrained joy. He sprang to his feet as the kick sailed inside the goalpost, then made a beeline to the field, where teammates were mobbing Cundiff.
Between the focus and the joy was a veteran quarterback’s seminar in the two-minute drill, conducted by a 22-year-old rookie in his fourth NFL start who was handed a terrible situation — down by a point in a hostile environment, down to his last timeout, a blown 18-point lead, with a helmet headset that suddenly stopped working. He turned it into the most satisfying sort of victory.
“You try to rise to the occasion,” Griffin said.
Facing a defense that had held the Redskins’ league-leading offense scoreless in the second half until that point, Griffin marched the Redskins 56 yards in seven plays on the decisive drive. He completed all four of his passes (not counting a spike to stop the clock) for 46 yards and scrambled for another critical 15-yard gain.
“A lot of poise there in the fourth quarter,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “That’s what you’ve got to have in your quarterback.”
All the while, Griffin’s headset — the link for play calls between him and the coaching staff — was kaput. When there was time, he veered toward the sideline to get the next play. Otherwise, he called the play himself.
“Every week, we always practice me calling the plays [as if] the headset has gone out,” Griffin said. “The funny thing is, the headset did go out on that drive. . . . So it was neat how that practice scenario played out in the game.”
At the 20, Griffin crouched in the middle of the Redskins’ huddle – the only huddle they would convene on the final, hectic drive. “It was like it was the first play of the game,” said center Will Montgomery. “He’s like, ‘all right, guys. Let’s go do this.’ He’s a cool, calm operator.”
On that first play, Griffin hit veteran wide receiver Santana Moss over the middle for a 15-yard gain. “That was the key play, the first pass to ‘Tana,” said wide receiver Josh Morgan. “That’s the one that got it all started, that gave us some breathing room.”
Next: a pass to a wide-open Fred Davis over the middle, the tight end extending the play with a bruising run for a total of 20 yards. The Redskins were into Tampa Bay territory, with the clock approaching the one-minute mark.
“For some reason they left Fred all alone,” Griffin said, “. . . and I hit the wide-open guy like I’m supposed to.”
Still operating without a huddle and without a headset, Griffin found running back Evan Royster for four yards, the only questionable decision Griffin made, as the short gain was not worth the time it took off the clock. On second-and-six, Griffin scrambled 15 yards, moving the ball from the Tampa Bay 41 to the 26. The Redskins were in field goal range, and the clock was ticking below 45 seconds.
Griffin quickly got the Redskins to the line and spiked the ball, the clock stopping at 38 seconds, the Redskins still holding their final precious timeout. A false start on left guard Kory Lichtensteiger pushed them back to the 31-yard line, but a quick pass to Moss got those yards back, plus two more. It was third and eight from the Tampa Bay 24. As the clock ticked to seven seconds, the Redskins used their final timeout.
Griffin had done his part, in a sense completing the job he had started in Week 2 at St. Louis and again in Week 3 at home against Cincinnati — losses that ended with the Redskins self-destructing amid penalties as Griffin was attempting to drive them to winning scores.
This time, he got the Redskins where they needed to be, and Cundiff did the rest, redeeming himself for three earlier misses by nailing the winner. Just prior to the final drive, as Tampa Bay place kicker Connor Barth was lining up the 47-yard field goal that would give the Buccaneers a one-point lead, veteran quarterback Rex Grossman sidled up to Griffin and said, “You want him to make this so you can lead the team down the field and get us a win.”
“I was looking at him like, ‘Yeah, but I also want him to miss,’ ” Griffin said.
For Griffin, the victory was a validation of sorts. He had answered every other question about his abilities in the season’s first three games: Was he tough enough? Was he accurate enough? Could he make quick decisions with the ball? Now, he had answered the ultimate question for an NFL quarterback: Was he a winner? And he answered, decisively and definitively, in the affirmative.
More on the Redskins and NFL:
Summary: Redskins 24, Buccaneers 22
Analysis: Griffin’s a multifaceted leader
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