He has whipped the Washington Redskins’ fan base into a frenzy. A different football expert sings his praises every day, and the official accolades have begun to roll in three days after his first professional game. The cover of Sports Illustrated bears his image, and already an impromptu celebration move has been named for him and is being imitated across the country.
But Robert Griffin III hasn’t flinched. At least not in public.
The NFL announced Wednesday that the Redskins’ rookie quarterback earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after he threw for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions while leading his team to a 40-32 season-opening victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
But for Griffin, the honor carried little weight.
“It was more than just myself,” Griffin said dryly as he addressed the media at his regular midweek news conference. “All the guys went out there and performed at a high level. It paid off for us with a win and another win, I guess, with offensive player of the week.”
Prior to Sunday, no rookie in league history had thrown for at least 300 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in his debut performance.
“What a terrific debut. Very, very impressive. As people are saying, it’s historical,” said St. Louis Rams Coach Jeff Fisher, whose team faces Griffin and the Redskins Sunday. “He did a great job with accuracy and poise, made plays with his legs and has a good grasp of the offense. . . .We’re going to have a long week. ”
Griffin will try to lead the Redskins to a 2-0 start Sunday — something that only four other rookie quarterbacks in league history have managed. But he insists he doesn’t feel pressure to produce an equal or better encore performance.
Redskins backup quarterback Rex Grossman “kind of told me after the game that I set the bar high, and I’ve got to continue to go up,” Griffin recalled. “But to me, it doesn’t put any more pressure on me. It just solidifies what I’ve always thought, that I can play in the NFL at a high level. This team can be successful with the coaches that we have and the players that we have.”
The attention paid to Griffin hasn’t rubbed his teammates the wrong way, though some have good-naturedly made fun of him because of the “Griffining” pose sweeping the country. But they have embraced the spotlight their quarterback has quickly attracted, even as they appreciate the way he has included them. As fullback Darrel Young put it, the Redskins have struggled so mightily in the years past, they’re glad to have positive attention of any sort.
But the biggest reason for the acceptance stems from the way Griffin carries himself.
“He knows you can go from belle of the ball to the outhouse real fast,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “He’s got to perform each and every week.”
Said wide receiver Santana Moss: “He gets it. . . . And he knows that every week is going to come a different challenge.”
Griffin approaches the Rams game with a simple goal: Just play, just grow. He felt comfortable as he ran a Washington offense that featured both the traditional staples of the Mike Shanahan system that won back-to-back Super Bowls in Denver and option plays similar to those he ran in college at Baylor. He discussed the need for improved chemistry and timing with running backs and receivers, but he knows that will come.
The Redskins had the element of unpredictability on their side against the Saints, because during the preseason, they ran a very basic form of the offense, and didn’t show any of the creativity they unveiled Sunday. Now Griffin will face the challenge of maintaining the same level of effectiveness after opponents have video on him.
But he said he will leave that concern to his coaches and follow the game plan they lay out for him.
“The coaches are coming up with new concepts every day. I think their imaginations are running wild, and it’s going to be fun to see what we can do. I just go out there and execute it,” Griffin said.
He added: “Every offense evolves and changes, moving guys around, doing different things, doing different concepts. . . . Teams are going to try to adjust to what you’ve done, you’re going to try not to show them the same thing twice and I think our coaches are doing a good job of that.”
As well as Griffin handled himself on and off the field this week, Shanahan noted that challenges still lie ahead. But he believes Griffin can handle them.
“Let’s not get carried away with all this,” Shanahan cautioned. “This is the first game, and it’s a growing experience. . . . It’s part of the maturation process that you’re going to have some highs and some lows. It’s just the nature of the game. . . . Hopefully he can keep it going.”