ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Moments before the Washington Redskins would begin their third offensive series of Thursday night’s preseason opener, Robert Griffin III, their prized rookie quarterback, paced the sideline alone, his helmet in one hand, a paper Gatorade cup in the other. Flashbulbs popped in the stands behind him; every fan with a camera or a smartphone seemed to have it trained on No. 10 in white.
To that point, six plays into Griffin’s first NFL game, the best that could be said of the 22-year-old Texas native was that he was still alive, having suffered no bodily harm despite a pair of tepid, three-play drives behind an injury-riddled offensive line. Now, as possession returned to the Redskins, Griffin tossed aside the cup, strapped on his helmet and jogged back onto the field.
Moments later, there was Griffin, not just alive — but enraptured. Well before Pierre Garcon, on the receiving end of Griffin’s screen pass, somersaulted into the corner of the end zone, Griffin had his arms raised to the sky. He circled around toward midfield, grabbed a knee, crossed himself and pointed quickly to the sky. Then he used his sprinter’s speed to chase down Garcon in the end zone, engaging his new favorite receiver in a running, leaping chest bump.
“It was fun,” Griffin said. “ . . . The first one’s always the toughest. But to get it out of the way and have a successful outing and get a touchdown on that drive to cap off our day really set the tone for the year.”
The third of Griffin’s three drives during his abbreviated appearance in the Redskins’ exhibition opener against the Buffalo Bills, a 7-6 Washington victory, transformed his night from a sobering exercise in reduced expectations to an unqualified success that will only enhance his standing with title-starved Redskins fans as the franchise’s new savior. Taking the ball from his 20-yard line, Griffin led the Redskins down the field in eight plays, three of them crisp completions to Garcon, the last of which, from the Buffalo 20, resulted in the touchdown.
“You couldn’t ask for much more,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said.
Griffin’s night began in sunshine and ended well before sunset. Of his 14 snaps Thursday night, six produced pass attempts, and of those, four were completions, totaling 70 yards. His passer rating of 145.8 was close to perfection. He was the picture of poise, at one point calmly looking off defenders to complete a pass over the middle to Garcon.
“Coach was happy” with that play, Griffin said with a smile. “He told me, ‘Good job’ after that one.”
When running back Evan Royster fumbled a handoff on the Redskins’ second possession, Griffin, not realizing the play had been whistled dead, chased down Bills safety George Wilson at the 2 and leveled him with a diving tackle.
Otherwise, his uniform remained spotless. No defender so much as touched him.
It was only a preseason game, and an early August one at that. But Redskins fans, having endured more than two decades since their last Super Bowl title, won’t care about such nuances. What mattered was that Griffin did not merely survive — he shined. He stood behind a makeshift offensive line, and — after two dry runs — drove the Redskins down the field. He put the ball in the end zone. For one drive at least, he looked like a star, perhaps even a savior.
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