Robert Griffin III returns Redskins to relevance

The Redskins 17-16 win over the New York Giants puts the team in a tie for second place with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East, but they need to maintain a balance on offense in order to make the playoffs. (Mike Jones and Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)
December 4, 2012

Robert Griffin III’s final rush of the night was far from textbook-quality. As he made his way down the field -- at a light jog, instead of a full sprint -- he didn’t even bother protecting the football in his right hand, instead spinning it absent-mindedly and flipping it in the air. As he neared the goal-line, pursued by a wall of cameras and microphones, he stopped to hug teammates and mug for cameras.

Finally, still holding the ball from the final kneel-down that sealed a monumental win, he ducked into the tunnel and the arms of joyous Washington Redskins in their locker room.

Griffin has had more spectacular performances this season, games in which his numbers were gaudier and his preternatural brilliance more obvious. But across 12 games in this memorable rookie season, he had not authored a more meaningful performance than Monday night’s nationally televised 17-16 victory over the New York Giants.

It was a victory that completed the Redskins’ return to relevance after the bye-week soul-searching engendered by a 3-6 start, and moved them from the fringes of playoff contention to the beating heart of it. At 6-6, the Redskins now trail the NFC East-leading Giants by just one game, with an easier remaining schedule than their rivals.

“The guys in that locker room know what we’ve been through,” Griffin said. “They know how hard we’ve worked. . . . It feels good. [But] we’ve got more goals we want to accomplish.”

Griffin’s numbers seem pedestrian compared with his outputs from weeks past — 13-of-21 passing for 163 yards and a touchdown, and another 72 yards rushing on five attempts.

But on a night when the Giants controlled the ball for huge chunks of the game, Griffin was efficient and effective — never more so than on the pivotal, 86-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter that was capped by an eight-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, and gave the Redskins their decisive points.

“Stats don’t really mean anything,” Griffin said. “We made the plays when it counted. . . . I couldn’t be any more proud of the guys.”

On a night when FedEx Field was jam-packed at kickoff, for the first important December game here in years, Griffin practically crackled and popped with commensurate energy. Bounding onto the field for pregame warm-ups, he high-stepped down the sideline, mugging for the cameras before engaging Santana Moss in a flying chest-bump.

No fewer than five television cameras trailed him as he ran to the sideline to shake hands with his father and kiss his mother before running through the tunnel.

Griffin might have carried the same energy into the game, if only he could get himself and the Redskins’ offense on the field. Instead, the Giants controlled the ball for much of the first half. Want to know how to beat RGIII? Just keep him on the sidelines.

When Griffin did manage to get on the field, he continued to add to his highlight reel of breathtaking plays. He scored before on long runs and long passes, with bursts of athleticism and impeccable decision-making. In Monday night’s first quarter, he somehow created a touchdown out of his own fumble.

At the end of a 12-yard run at the Giants’ 16, Griffin fumbled as he was hit. The ball caromed directly into the arms of hard-charging teammate Josh Morgan, who never broke stride as he dashed into the end zone.

Afterward, Griffin, Morgan and Coach Mike Shanahan — all with poker faces of varying quality — stuck to their story that the play was a designed pitch, rather than a fumble.

“We didn’t run it in practice, because we wanted to save it for the game,” Griffin said. “Josh did a good job making sure he was where he needed to be.”

Finally, he broke into a huge smile. The truth is, it hardly matters how the touchdown happened, or how the Redskins won – only that it did, and they did.

Dave Sheinin has been covering baseball and writing features and enterprise stories for The Washington Post since 1999.
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