Most of quarterback Robert Griffin III’s best moments have occurred far away from FedEx Field, and the Washington Redskins were at their best last season when he did it big on the road. They could use another signature performance from him Sunday.
After an ugly loss in their home opener (there’s no sugarcoating a 26-point third-quarter deficit), the Redskins play the Packers at Lambeau Field — also known as the place visiting clubs go to lose. How good are the Packers in their house? How about 20 victories in their last 21 regular season games.
Playing a road game against one of the NFL’s best teams early in the season is difficult enough. But the Redskins will face a Packers team ticked off after losing at San Francisco last Sunday. This isn’t the ideal way for Griffin, who struggled against the Eagles, to ease back into his job in his return from reconstructive knee surgery.
But Griffin got what he wanted: He was all in for Week 1. Now the Redskins are in a potential jam on the road in Week 2. Griffin led them out of similar tough spots last season; he’d enhance his reputation considerably if he could do it again.
The ability to perform well in the fourth quarter (winning time in football) is the trait that most inspires confidence in quarterbacks. Leading teams to victories on the road is high on the list, too. As a rookie, Griffin got it done in both areas.
Griffin’s I’m-here performance in his first NFL game — 320 yards passing and two touchdowns — was too much for the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. For the Redskins, the silence of the crowd spoke loudly about Griffin.
“Oh, man, it’s usually crazy in there — but not that day,” outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “Robert got it going so quick, it was like [Saints fans] really couldn’t believe what they were seeing. You want your quarterback to do something. You want to see how he [reacts] on the road. When Robert went out there and did that, man, we didn’t need to see anything else.”
Griffin had a lot more to show. A week later on the road, Griffin proved his fast start wasn’t a fluke. Although the Redskins lost to the St. Louis Rams, Griffin was effective again both passing and running. Griffin’s teammates noticed a trend developing.
“He’s playing his first two games on the road and he’s completely poised,” fullback Darrel Young said. “He’s doing everything like we were just in practice.
“You could tell he wasn’t going to be overwhelmed by anything. And just the way we were able to silence crowds so fast . . . it gives the whole team confidence.”
Griffin would only get better. He directed his first fourth-quarter, game-winning drive in Week 4 at Tampa Bay, doing the heavy lifting to set up place kicker Billy Cundiff’s 41-yard field goal with three seconds to play. Final score: Redskins 24, Buccaneers 22.
Why was Griffin so effective on the road? It’s simple: Challenges fuel him. In professional sports, there’s nothing more challenging than winning on the road. “He’s always looking for another thing to motivate him, another challenge, something to focus on,” tight end Fred Davis said. “With the crowd on the road, everything going on, you have to be focused. He’s focused at home, too, but he’s extra focused on the road.”
Even Griffin couldn’t overcome the Redskins’ awful secondary in Week 7, though he came close. Griffin had 258 yards passing and 89 rushing in his first game against the NFC East rival New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
Late in the fourth quarter, Griffin made some of the most sensational plays you’ll ever see from a quarterback — his 19-yard pass to tight end Logan Paulsen on a fourth-and-10 scramble was sick — during a potentially winning 77-yard drive. He connected with wide receiver Santana Moss on a go-ahead, 30-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute 32 seconds remaining. But Giants quarterback Eli Manning and wideout Victor Cruz teamed on a 77-yard game-winner 19 seconds later.
The Redskins thought they had seen Griffin’s best that day, “and then he went down to Dallas on Thanksgiving,” Davis said, “and you just kind of shook your head.”
Griffin passed for 304 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Redskins to a 38-31 victory in another divisional game.
That type of superstar performance in a high-profile duel — Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo had 444 yards and three touchdowns — leaves a lasting impression on awards voters. Griffin was selected the 2012 NFL offensive rookie of the year, in large part, based on his road work.
He did have some difficult trips, too. Griffin struggled at Pittsburgh in a Week 8 loss. He sat out a victory at Cleveland after initially injuring his knee and was only so-so by his standards in his first game back in the lineup in Philadelphia. The overall results, though, were off the charts.
Last season, Griffin got the party started in New Orleans and won a shootout deep in the heart of Texas. If he can keep on rolling in the land of the Cheeseheads, the Redskins just might have a fun ride home.
For more by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.
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