ARLINGTON, Tex. — One pass floated in the air for an eternity. Some of his stutter-steps lost no one. The quarterback who could no wrong on this field last November now could do little right in the fourth quarter. He looked unsure of himself in those moments, unspectacular, almost unconfident, un-RGIII.
Remember the rookie quarterback who made all the right moves at the end of games, consoling his doomed Dallas counterpart after Washington clinched the NFC East last December in front of a howling mob?
“Hey, Tony, I just wanted to say to you don’t listen to what anyone else is saying about you,” a mic’d-up Griffin said. “You’re a great quarterback, man. This game doesn’t mean anything.”
Romo could easily use the same words for Griffin here Sunday night, where Dallas dropped Washington to a woeful 1-4. Where Griffin got happy feet in the pocket with 9 minutes left, fumbled at his own 1-yard line, where he lofted a wounded duck that was intercepted in the end zone with 5 minutes left, effectively ending any shot his mistake-prone team had against their rivals in time.
“I went through my reads,” he explained of the fumble, postgame. “The pocket collapsed. I got hit. I tried to hold onto the ball. They just got it.”
The season isn’t over after five games and a fourth quarter dominated by the Cowboys in their 31-16 win. But with a rested Chicago coming to FedEx Field on Sunday and a trip to Denver the following weekend to essentially play the Miami Heat of the NFL, it’s time to ponder a sobering question before the halfway point of a season already on the skids:
Can a bad football team, a galaxy away from the postseason at the moment even in a dreadful NFC East, take solace in the continued, humbling development of a second-year quarterback and an offense that rolled up more than 400 yards of total offense?
That’s the question Mike Shanahan will not answer just in the post-mortem of this loss, but very likely the remainder of the season if this continues.
Really, can Griffin’s take-your-lumps-and-grow season as he returns from major knee surgery suffice for a fan base — and an owner titillated beyond belief after reeling off seven straight victories with the most breathtaking talent in the NFL a year ago?
Because if expectations aren’t immediately reduced, if the masses are going to hold Shanahan and his roster to the Super Bowl aspirations they talked about this offseason — if Griffin is going to gradually turn into more of a drop-back passer after a pistol, read-option existence — then the coach better start winning some football games as he continues to teach Griffin the position for which he is meant to play the next 10-plus years in Washington.
Griffin wasn’t awful for most of Sunday night. In fact, at times, more signs that the player who took the NFL by force and flare a year ago were beginning to return.
Oh, and so was his fire, which came out with 12:39 left in the third quarter. Griffin took off running, smartly looking for the sideline, high-stepping it out of trouble when the Cowboys’ Barry Church hit him late at the legs. He got up angry, pounding the football as the flag was thrown, the competitive fury that characterized his ability to take over a football game returning just in time.
Another drive began at the 20 with about six minutes left in the second quarter. Griffin felt Cowboys’ 6-1, 310-pound defensive tackle Drake Nevis blowing steam up the middle, dodged pursuit, darted forward and found Leonard Hankerson in the seam, throwing off one foot.
It was a signature “Robert is Back” play, ruined by a holding penalty on Chris Chester.
“I thought he looked a lot like himself pre-injury,” London Fletcher said. “He showed some bursts when he decided to run with the ball. He showed some elusiveness in the pocket and made some plays — you know, off-target, off-scheduled plays, running, scrambling around, hitting receivers downfield.
“He’s only going to get better because his knee is only going to get stronger. He’s still only nine months post-surgery.”
All good signs, but no real red-zone touchdowns or go-long plays that siphoned emotion out of Cowboys Stadium like a year ago on Thanksgiving.
He ran more read-option plays and designed runs than he had all season, looking as if he was ready for more each time he rose from a tackle.
But something was missing, some riveting touchdown or a signature moment. He again wasn’t the most dynamic performer on the field. That designation went to Cowboys’ return specialist Dwayne Harris, who torched the kickoff return team twice, once for an 86-yard score.
Maybe waiting for Griffin of last year is not a healthy expectation. Robert of 2012 is gone and may not be coming back until it’s too late for a postseason run.
And what’s left from the painful end of last season is a young player learning that winning and starring in the NFL is much harder with a knee brace and grand expectations where there once were none.
That Griffin again dropped another minor hint of discord between himself and the organization — he hates his knee brace and wants to play without it, but the team insists he wear it every game — was perhaps another reminder of all the things he would like to shed this back-to-reality season.
In some ways, he probably wishes all the misfortune happening to him and his team this season happened to him last season, when the bar was low and the goal was just to gauge whether Washington had a quarterback for the first time in forever.
Instead, the franchise savior, Clark Kent in cleats and helmet and those Superman socks only he could pull off, has run into a pile of Kryptonite called 2013.
He’s not just human. Some games, he’s a very shaky second-year quarterback still trying to find the mojo of a year ago, looking so much like Romo did after the Cowboys’ crestfallen loss in December.
“I told him we’ll see him again and to continue to do what he’s doing,” Griffin said when asked what he said to Romo this time. “It’s a different situation. Last year was a play-in game.”
Depending on your perspective the scene when Griffin consoled Romo a year ago was either classy or odd, watching a youngster tear up the NFL his maiden season offering up encouragement for then a 32-year-old veteran of three Pro Bowls.
Some felt the kid was genuine. Others felt Griffin should have known his place better, not be the all-knowing sage at just 22. Either way, he knows his place now.
He is the starting quarterback of a bad NFL team, underachieving in almost every facet of the game while hanging onto hope beyond hope that their next opponent is worse than their sorry outfit that particular Sunday.
Growing pains hurt, don’t they?
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