With a look to the seven games that follow this week’s bye, and beyond, Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden on Monday said “the jury is still out” on Robert Griffin III . The quarterback must show he can both play at a high level and stay healthy, for starters. And Gruden also reiterated that to deal with the harsh criticism that comes with the second-most high-profile job in the nation’s capital, Griffin must have thick skin.
One day later, while holding his weekly news conference before he and his teammates departed for their mini-vacation, Griffin showed he met the thick-skin requirement. He said he fully understood Gruden’s message and has “no doubt” that he is the franchise quarterback that the long-suffering team needs.
“I’ve only played two games and a quarter,” said Griffin, who on Sunday suited up for the first time since dislocating his left ankle in Week 2. “I think what he’s saying is, coming into this year, everybody had a clean slate. Everybody’s got to prove why they should be out there and have the opportunity to make plays. I haven’t been out there, and availability is the key. My job is to continue to get better each week, help this team win football games, and the rest will take care of itself, and so I don’t take that any kind of way negatively.”
Griffin insisted that although he knows what Gruden and the rest of the team’s decision-makers want and need to see, he does not feel added pressure. He already considers himself the franchise quarterback.
“I understand that everybody has a criticism, but you have to prove yourself every day — day in, day out in this league and life in general,” he said. “So, I do take that mind-set towards it, but when it comes to being that franchise guy, it is what it is. I believe that I am. I believe that this organization knows that I am. I know those guys in that locker room know that I am, and there’s no doubt there. So, I don’t ever step on the field trying to make a claim saying, ‘I am the guy.’ It’s not like that. This is my team, and I’m going to lead it.”
Griffin fell short of delivering his team to victory Sunday in a 29-26 loss to the Vikings. But he flashed elements of the promise that made him a game-changer as a rookie. Griffin completed 18 of 28 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown. He displayed a strong arm as he connected with DeSean Jackson for big plays and used his legs to escape perilous situations and complete drive-extending throws.
“He made a lot of unscheduled plays,” said tight end Niles Paul, who was among the players encouraged by what they saw. “It was good to have him back out there. He did everything that we know he is capable of doing as a quarterback. . . . Robert Griffin III brings a whole different aspect to the game, and it was good having him out there today.”
But Griffin also threw an interception at the end of the first half. In the second half, he lacked the necessary feel in the pocket while stepping into pressure and held on to the ball too long and was sacked five times. Griffin also killed a potential game-winning drive by throwing a fourth-quarter incompletion at the feet of an open receiver.
Griffin said despite the shortcomings, he drew encouragement from the chance to get back on the field, as well as the positives he and his teammates produced. Redskins coaches had at one point debated whether or not to bring Griffin back against Minnesota or wait until after the bye. But they ultimately decided the quarterback was ready to go, and Griffin said he benefited from playing sooner rather than later.
“You get to get out there and fight with your guys. It’s always a lot of fun,” he said. “We had some fun plays, some exciting moments and we just want to be able to string those together more consistently. I think that’s where I was able to get out there and knock off some of the rust and get hit, throw the ball, get some run checks and really enjoy the talent we have on this roster.”
Griffin finds himself in a familiar situation at this point in the season. For a third consecutive year, he will try to lead his team on a dramatic run after opening the year with a 3-6 record.
In 2012, Griffin and the Redskins won seven consecutive games to capture the NFC East title. But in 2013, Washington lost all seven of the remaining games, and with three contests left Mike Shanahan benched Griffin in favor of Kirk Cousins.
Griffin credited Gruden for keeping the team united despite their struggles, and said that he and his teammates understand what the keys are to turn around the season.
Accountability ranked first on Griffin’s list. Each player must raise his level of play. Unity and strong leadership also will make the difference, he said. Questions remain as to whether this team is equipped to orchestrate such a comeback and whether they have the intangibles needed to overcome talent deficiencies.
Griffin, however, remains a believer.
“We want to win games. We want to be an organization that consistently wins, and we are going to figure that out,” he said. “I know not many people might believe that. [Reporters] in this room might not believe that. They might not think we have the leadership on this team to be successful. But we do, and that’s all that matters. That we believe and that we go out and do, and we have to prove it.”