Robert Griffin III looked shaky to analysts, but silver lining is that he played through it

The Post Sports Live crew breaks down Robert Griffin III's performance in his first start since reconstructive knee surgery. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Robert Griffin III’s return to action after an eight-month layoff did not get off to the start the quarterback anticipated or the one the Washington Redskins would have preferred.

But Griffin drew encouragement from his final quarter-and-a-half of play and believed the late stretches of the game gave him something to build on as the Redskins turn their attention to their Week 2 date with the Packers in Green Bay.

Four former NFL players said Griffin and the Redskins’ sentiments were correct and that they expect the second-year pro to build on the second half of Monday night’s loss.

As he struggled out of the gates, completing only 6 of 14 passes for 62 yards and two interceptions, Griffin’s play raised questions whether Mike Shanahan had done the right thing in holding the quarterback out of the entire preseason and whether the quarterback should have played in the season opener at all.

The pinpoint accuracy that gave Griffin the NFL’s fourth-highest passing percentage in 2012 behind only Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers was missing for the better part of Monday night. Passes sailed high or went behind receivers.

The Post Sports Live crew offers bold predictions for the Redskins at the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

Griffin, who threw only five interceptions his entire rookie season, forced a pass into triple coverage on the second drive of the game and saw it get intercepted.

The confidence, swagger and feel for the game Griffin exhibited last season all seemed nonexistent.

Griffin refused to blame his long layoff for the struggles, saying, “I think [rust is] an excuse. I’m responsible for the way I play. I didn’t play very well in the first half, so that’s just the way it is. You move on from it.”

Former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon did attribute Griffin’s uncharacteristic play to the eight-month layoff, however.

“I thought it was very noticeable,” said Gannon, the 2002 league MVP and a four-time Pro Bowl player. “The first half, he played slow. You could see it in his footwork; he was tentative. He wasn’t following through. In the pocket, he looked unsteady. The speed of the game seemed a little too quick for him. He didn’t seem real comfortable. But what can you expect considering he hadn’t played in a long time?”

Griffin did answer questions about the state of his knee in the first half. The Eagles took Griffin to the ground twice after he had gotten rid of the ball. But each time he got back up and did not appear hampered.

“I think he passed the tests with his knee, so that’s over,” former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said. “He ran on it. He took hits. He got out of bounds a couple times.”

Theismann added, “I saw no long-term concerns,” he said. “I saw a quarterback feeling his way through the game and getting more comfortable as the game went along. That’s to be expected. I don’t think the lack of playing time in the preseason hurt him. But everyone needs to stop putting the Redskins’ success all on Robert. He had a great rookie season, but that’s over.”

Theismann did blame Griffin for the first interception but pointed out that a fumble by Alfred Morris on the first play of the game, a botched pitch exchange between Griffin and Morris and missed blocking assignments also hampered the Redskins’ offensive efforts.

Analysts found fault with Griffin’s footwork on his release and pointed out he was throwing off of his back foot at times and wasn’t stepping into throws and driving the ball. But on several of those occasions, Griffin’s guards were getting blocked back into his path.

Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon said he didn’t see anything that surprised him. But he believed the Redskins could have helped ensure a smoother transition to the regular season.

“I think he could’ve gotten some of those struggles out of the way if he had’ve played in the preseason,” Moon said. “If it were me, I would’ve played him in the fourth preseason game, even if it was one series where you have him throw one bubble screen and hand off a couple times. He could’ve gone through pregame warmups, gotten the feel of running a few plays. Some of what we saw last night might not have happened.”

Moon, like the others — and Redskins players and coaches — said the lack of offensive flow wasn’t all Griffin’s fault.

“The defense wasn’t playing that great, and on offense, he needed some of those guys to make a play,” Moon said. “Even though his passes weren’t perfect early on, they weren’t the worst. Somebody has to make a play for him. If a ball is a little behind a receiver and that receiver makes the catch, then that helps Robert and gets his confidence up. But that didn’t happen.”

Former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman, who played most of his career alongside Brett Favre, said he thought Griffin looked healthy but not sharp. But none of what he saw served as cause for concern.

“Those are things that can be corrected with reps,” Freeman said. “I was actually surprised his conditioning didn’t wear down in the end. I think he’ll get better.”

Griffin did get better as the game progressed. From the second possession of the third quarter on, Griffin completed 24 of 35 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns.

“I think the encouraging thing for the Shanahans and for Griffin is how he responded,” Gannon said. “I don’t know what was said to him, but in the third quarter, he cut it loose, and you saw it. You could see he was following through and ripping it. You saw him pull it down a couple times and run with decisiveness and with purpose.”

Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan declined to discuss what clicked for Griffin or whether he drew encouragement from the quarterback’s second-half play.

“I don’t critique players through the media,” Shanahan said.

But Gannon expects Griffin and the Redskins did see positives in the way the passer finished the game.

“I think he’ll be just fine. I think he’ll be a lot smoother in the next game,” Gannon said. “The Redskins definitely can look at that and feel like, ‘We didn’t win. It wasn’t what wanted from the start, but he worked through it, we made it close at the end and we got our quarterback back. Mission accomplished.’ ”

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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