There was something different about Robert Griffin III on Sunday, both superficially and fundamentally. He had a new “C” stitched on the front of his uniform, right above the heart, having been named a captain by his Washington Redskins teammates four days earlier. On “Salute to Service” day at FedEx Field, he had the names of his parents, Robert Jr. and Jacqueline, stamped on the tongues of his shoes.
But the more important differences couldn’t be seen: the well-rested limbs, the deeper resolve, the stronger sense of mission. Two weeks ago, following the low point of their season — a home loss to a 1-6 Carolina Panthers team — Griffin had departed for the bye week vowing to return a better quarterback than before.
Did he make good on his vow? All he did Sunday was go 14 of 15 for 200 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, post a technically perfect passer rating of 158.3, rush for 84 additional yards, and engineer a thorough 31-6 beatdown of the visiting Philadelphia Eagles, a team they hadn’t beaten at FedEx Field in nearly four years.
“Except for that one incompletion,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan deadpanned, “I thought he did okay.”
It was statistically, if not aesthetically, the finest game of Griffin’s young NFL career, now 10 games old. And while it came against an abysmal Eagles defense on a day the Redskins’ offense still showed plenty of flaws, its impact should not be lessened. It was a victory that saved the Redskins’ season, at least temporarily, while restoring Grffin’s status as one of the game’s most riveting playmakers following back-to-back duds in the two games prior to the bye.
“I know my mind-set wasn’t completely changed [after the bye], but I was more energized to come back and [win] however many games in a row we need to win to make it to the playoffs,” Griffin said. “I didn’t second-guess what my instincts were telling me — when to throw, when not to throw, when to run, when not to run, when to get down, when to get out of bounds.”
His touchdowns came on almost every type of play — a perfectly executed misdirection play (with fullback Darrel Young on the receiving end of a six-yard pass), a trick play (a faked end around leading to a 49-yard strike to a wide-open Aldrick Robinson), a deep ball into tight coverage (with Santana Moss outwrestling his opponents for the ball on a 61-yard bomb), and a classic drop-back pocket strike (to tight end Logan Paulsen from 17 yards out).
“We were able to make the big plays when we needed to,” Griffin said. “As a team it was big for us. We all knew it. It’s not time to panic. But it is time to bunker down and make sure we put out best foot forward. The way we played physically, offense and defense, it was extremely impressive.
It may not be an overstatement to say Griffin is already the most dangerous big-play threat in the NFL. On Sunday alone, he completed four passes of 20 or more yards, and tacked on three runs of at least that length. On what may have been the game’s biggest play, on third-and-14 deep in the Redskins’ own territory — at a point in the third quarter when the Redskins’ offense was stalling and the Eagles had pulled to within 17-6 — Griffin scrambled for a 23-yard gain that seemed to demoralize the visitors.
Three plays later came the strike to Moss, with Griffin celebrating the touchdown near midfield. An Eagles defender, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, pointed to the yellow flag on the ground and mocked Griffin, figuring the play would be nullified. But the penalty was on the defense, and Griffin turned the mockery around on Jenkins.
“We had a nice discussion about that on the field,” Griffin said with a smile. “It really was nice, honestly. No trash talk. He just said he felt like idiot after that.”
Sunday wasn’t the day to mess with Griffin’s karma. This is what perfection — at least, as defined by the NFL’s statisticians — looks like, and it is a sight to behold.
More Redskins and NFL coverage:
Game summary: Redskins 31, Eagles 6
The Takeaway: Griffin is the difference maker
Thomas Boswell: It helps if the competition is bad