The Redskins and their sublime rookie Robert Griffin III survived two of the more chilling escapes of any NFL season on Sunday at FedEx Field. The Redskins won a desperately needed game. RGIII still has II knees.
Washington, trailing the Baltimore Ravens 28-20 with 4 minutes 47 seconds to play, came from behind behind the clutch play of rookie backup quarterback Kirk Cousins to win in overtime, 31-28, and keep their playoff hopes bubbling.
And Griffin, the most thrilling new quarterback in the NFL in years, escaped a terrifying collision with 340-pound Haloti Ngata with his right leg still attached to his body. And, according to the Redskins, no major damage.
“Oh, Lord, here we go,” Griffin said he thought as he cut back across the middle of the field on a scramble with 1:48 to play in regulation, venturing where the big people roam. “I knew [I was hurt] as soon as I got hit. I screamed — like a man, of course.”
The Redskins can smile, or in Griffin’s case, even risk a laugh. According to a Redskins spokesman, an MRI exam on Griffin’s knee after the game showed “everything is clear on the MRI . . . no [significant] ligament damage. He has a sprained knee.”
Griffin, who at one point collapsed, unable to walk, and crawled on the field before leaving the game, also tweeted that his MRI prayers had been answered. By Monday, there should be more specifics on whether Griffin will miss time. But the bullet of long-term damage was apparently dodged.
In a gut-flipping split second, the largest and scariest Raven of all, the mammoth Ngata, smashed the 217-pound rookie just as he hit the ground. The blow whiplashed Griffin’s right leg in a freakish contortion that looked, on replay, as if the quarterback’s knee had been hyperextended — the hinge going in the wrong direction — beyond the limits of human anatomy.
But Griffin’s anatomy, like his influence on the Redskins, seems to go well beyond normal limits. Instead of being demoralized by his injury, the Redskins were clearly inspired by seeing him return to the game; dragging his leg downfield, RGIII completed a 15-yard pass to Santana Moss and a 22-yard bullet over the middle to Pierre Garcon to push the Redskins to the Ravens 16-yard line with 1:23 to play.
Finally, Griffin could not even stand. That’s when his teammates rose to their full height.
The Redskins are, as everyone knows, supposedly Griffin and a bunch of other guys who hang onto his cape and fly around behind him.
Not this time. Cousins, who never gets a repetition with the first team in practice, completed his only two passes of the game — to save the game. The first found Leonard Hankerson for 15 yards to the 11-yard line.
His second completion, after being flushed out of the pocket to the right, was a time-buying beauty. His crisp dart hit Garcon in the end zone where he’d barely beaten cornerback Chris Johnson and found a safe hole in the coverage in front of fast-arriving safety Ed Reed.
“I was just trying to do my best RGIII imitation, if you will,” Cousins said of his scrambling as Garcon got himself free. “All I had to do was put it in his arms.” Not many rookies can do that in such moments. Cousins did it like he fully expected to shine.
“They had the original route covered,” said Garcon, who has started seven games for the Redskins, in which they’ve gone 6-1. “I kind of slow-played it and went to an open area and [Cousins] found me.”
The last thing the Ravens expected on the Redskins’ two-point conversion was a play that depended almost entirely on Cousins. So, that’s exactly what they got: a quarterback draw, the kind Griffin has scored on all season but which wasn’t supposedly part of Cousins’s résumé.
“You want to sell the pass a little bit,” said Cousins, who delayed the draw just enough for the Ravens to drop back in coverage. “I don’t run as fast as Robert, so I had to dive across the goal line. And I needed [every] block.”
In overtime, the Redskins completed a game when every playoff omen seemed to fall in place. Coach Mike Shanahan benched normal kick and punt returner Brandon Banks, who’s had a poor season, letting Niles Paul return kickoffs and Richard Crawford return punts.
This is how you know when a coach is running hot — or lucky. The Redskins’ final 85-yard game-tying drive might never have happened. Paul fumbled a kickoff and the Ravens appeared to have recovered at the Washington 15-yard line — probably a killing blow with only 4:47 left to play and an eight-point lead. But the recovery was reversed — a hairsbreadth call — and Griffin could start the final drive.
In overtime, the Ravens, who stormed up and down the field in the first half, taking a 21-14 lead on three Joe Flacco touchdown passes, were forced to punt. As has been his reputation for five years in Baltimore, Flacco did just enough to give his foes a chance, throwing an unnecessary interception when pressured in the pocket and fumbling on a strip-sack. When he couldn’t ignite an overtime drive, Baltimore had to punt.
Shanahan had the perfect view as they player he’d tabbed — Crawford — sped up the left sideline, cut back to the middle and returned the punt 64 yards to the Ravens 24-yard line. “It was kind of like the Red Sea [parting]. I saw where I had to go and I just ran that way,” said Crawford. “I ran out of gas. When I hit midfield, I was dead tired. I don’t know what happened. I never get tired. They use to call me the Energizer Bunny at practice.”
When you get tackled by the other team’s punter — but you win anyway — you get to make mystery excuses about running out of energy for no reason. Even Shanahan agitated Crawford about getting manhandled in the open field — after it was too late for Baltimore — by a punter.
Place kicker Kai Forbath, who’s now begun his Redskin career with a dazzling 14-for-14 streak on field goals, finished the day with what for him was the easiest part of a three-field goal day — a 34-yarder. His earlier kicks of 48 and 49 yards, without which no overtime would ever have been played, were the real reason he, along with Crawford, received a game ball. “That doesn’t happen to a kicker very often,” Forbath said. “It’s a huge honor.” Redskin fans, who have watched so much sub-NFL standard kicking for years, may be the ones who feel honored. Or at least relieved.
The true final score of this game will not really be known until it’s determined how quickly Griffin can return after the lick he took. “They kept pressing” on the knee,Griffin said of the doctors. “They’d ask me, ‘Does that hurt?’ I’d say, ‘No.’ Then they’d say, ‘Does that hurt?’
“YES! For the 14th time, that hurts!”
Griffin, like the Redskins, left hobbling but happy. “Feeling pretty good,” he said of the knee. “I’ve got the positive vibes.”
For now, that’s how all the Redskins feel — about their four straight wins, their perfectly plausible playoff chances and, fingers crossed, their quarterback, too.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/
More on the Redskins:
Summary: Redskins 31, Ravens 28 (OT)
Video: Watch the RGIII injury
Photos: The hit that injured Griffin