PITTSBURGH — For seven weeks, Robert Griffin III had been making the Washington Redskins believe anything was possible, and so even in this dire situation — fourth and 17, just over four minutes to go, the Redskins trailing by 15, the ball on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 24-yard line, a case of the dropsies spreading like the flu among Griffin’s receivers — you figured Griffin, with the ball in his hands, still had a fighting chance.
But Griffin’s pass to Santana Moss over the middle was broken up — the first time in nine tries the Redskins had failed to convert a fourth-down try — and Washington’s last chance was gone. Griffin dropped his head, jogged off the field showing no emotion and spent most of the rest of the 27-12 loss standing on the sideline under a cold rain.
There was much for Griffin to contemplate in a game that started poorly — a 7-0 deficit before he even touched the ball, a three-and-out on the Redskins’ first offensive series — and only seemed to get worse. Griffin had the worst statistical game of his brief career (16 of 34 passing for 177 yards and a touchdown, with a passer rating of 72.8, plus six carries for just eight yards), and suffered his worst defeat as a pro.
He also took his share of big hits from the Steelers’ vaunted defense — on pass plays, run plays and even a second-quarter trick play on which he became the targeted receiver on a deep ball thrown by wide receiver Josh Morgan. Perhaps worst of all, he watched as his receivers dropped 10 passes that hit them in the hands.
But at age 22, Griffin already is a leader on this team. His words carry weight in the locker room, and his message after the game was relentlessly positive.
“Effort has never been an issue with this team,” Griffin said. “We played hard every play. I tell people I’m never going to quit. It’s not in my DNA to step on the field and not go 100 percent. . . . I never felt we were out of the game, even up to [the point where] we went for it on fourth down with four minutes left.”
If Griffin’s receivers had caught even half the balls they dropped Sunday — and some of the passes, to be fair, were not perfectly delivered — the Redskins might have made a game of it in the fourth quarter.
“I thought he played well, coming into this environment,” said Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan. “But he’s got to have some help.”
Neither Shanahan nor Griffin wanted any part of excuse-making. Yes, the weather was bad. The field was wet. The balls were slick. But passes that hit you in the hands need to be caught.
“The comment [you heard] was, ‘My bad, my fault. That won’t happen again,’” Griffin said. “I’ll make sure they play hard for me every play. It’s a special relationship a quarterback has with his receivers. I know when I mess up, and they know when they mess up. We just all have to make sure we don’t continually mess up throughout the game. . .
“As men, as players, we have to leave those excuses out of it and look at ourselves personally,” Griffin continued. “Tomorrow, when we watch the film, we have to critique ourselves hard.”
So halfway through his rookie season, Griffin is saddled with a 3-5 record and an offense that has much potential — largely because of him — but little to show for it. If Sunday’s loss painted an ominous picture for the Redskins, one that placed on vivid display the lack of reliable weapons around him, Griffin himself refused to see it.
“We’re ready to go. Next week is a home game against Carolina,” he said. “We’ve got to keep pushing forward. . . . You learn from [this loss], you move forward to the next week, and you just know that no one’s going to quit.”
More Redskins and NFL coverage :
Game summary: Steelers 27, Redskins 12
Analysis: Redskins’ defense undermines offense
Photos: Scenes from Heinz Field
Couch Slouch: Football cliches a dime a dozen