With one riveting fourth-quarter touchdown drive, Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III displayed the attributes that had the Redskins coaching staff fawning over him before the draft and are leaving mouths agape week after week. His improvisational scrambling, accuracy outside the pocket and perfectly thrown deep ball to Santana Moss gave Washington the lead late in his first taste of NFC East football. But even after Eli Manning pulled the win right out from under Washington’s shaky secondary’s feet, Griffin left his mark on his biggest stage yet. As Dave Sheinin reported:

In a parallel universe, one where the opposing quarterback is someone other than Eli Manning, and where the Washington Redskins’ secondary is capable of protecting a lead late in the game, Robert Griffin III would be waking up Monday morning with a singularly satisfying feeling, having vanquished the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium with a late fourth-quarter dagger of a drive.

All the ingredients were there for a second straight thrilling win, capped by another iconic moment for the rookie quarterback. The go-ahead drive authored by Griffin on Sunday afternoon featured a converted fourth and 10 on a freelanced play deep in the Redskins’ territory, a 24-yard scramble on the first play after the two-minute warning and, finally, a 30-yard feather pillow of a touchdown throw to Santana Moss for the go-ahead score.

At that point, the heavy lifting for Griffin should have been over, another tale in the growing legend of RGIII now complete.

Instead, after Manning answered with an unfathomable 77-yard touchdown strike against the Redskins’ porous secondary, and after the Redskins’ final chance ended with a fumble by Moss, Griffin and the Redskins were stuck with a 27-23 loss that still had not sunk in a half-hour after the final seconds had ticked off.

“Right now,” Griffin said, “it’s kind of hard to know what to think.”

In the other, victorious locker room, the Giants knew exactly what to think: They had just witnessed something unlike anything else they have encountered.

“That guy is flat-out unbelievable, man,” Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said of Griffin. “I’m not gonna lie. That’s the best quarterback we’ve played this year.”

Sunday’s instant classic showcased perhaps the league’s greatest clutch quarterback and the man who may soon displace him atop the NFC East. As Sally Jenkins wrote:

If you live in the NFC East you better beat the one-man band that is Robert Griffin III now, because it’s your last chance. One day soon, maybe sooner than soon, the kid will get a little more around him, erase the last of his occasional youthful misjudgments and be unstoppable. That was the message to take from the New York Giants’ 27-23 victory over the Washington Redskins: The Redskins’ rivals better enjoy it now, because there is an absolute wolf at their door.

It sounds ludicrous to call a divisional loss heartening, but that’s exactly what this was. When you put together a drive that can only be called immortal to take a lead over the defending Super Bowl champions, converting a fourth down play and finishing it with that spinning, 30-yard dragonfly of a scoring pass to Santana Moss with 1 minute 32 seconds to play, something is building.

When Eli Manning has to produce one of the more desperately glorious late-game heaves of his career, a 77-yarder on a dime to Victor Cruz with 1:13 to go, and still the kid is not beat, not dead, when he’s still out there dodging and flinging the ball to keep hope alive, you know that something is building. Something big.

There may be better NFL quarterback duels this season, but there will be none more interesting than this one, the first-ever meeting between Manning and Griffin. It was No. 10 versus No. 10, and in order to understand just how good the Redskins have a chance to be with Griffin, you have to understand just how good Manning already is. He’s the most lethal fourth-quarter quarterback of his generation, with an 8-1 record in his past nine postseason games and two Super Bowl most valuable player trophies. There are better statistical performers in the league, but there is not a better money player.

“He’s like Joe Montana now,” said Barry Cofield, a former Giant. “He’s just unbelievable. He was good when I was here. But he’s unbelievable right now. He’s got no quit in him. The team has no quit because they just have so much faith in him. And they’ve got playmakers on the edges. So if you’re not up two scores with less than a minute, you can’t rest. He made it. He did it again.”

Cofield wasn’t the only player gushing about Griffin after Sunday’s game. Former Cowboys-turned-analysts Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders called Griffin “incredible,” and ESPN analyst Cris Carter took that one step further. As Dan Steinberg reported/transcribed:

This is going to be another week of extravagant RGIII praise, which is more fun than anguished Jim Haslett flagellation, all in all.

Let’s start with Cris Carter, who appeared on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike thing Monday morning.

“I’ve never seen a player like him,” Carter said of Robert Griffin III. “I played with Randall Cunningham, and I’ve seen Michael Vick play a lot. But I’ve never seen a quarterback that has that type of athletic ability, that type of explosion – if he wants to, I mean, he [doesn’t] have to use it – [and] he is a pocket passer.

“And I think that his understanding of the football game [is impressive], and I think that he’s embraced the National Football League, he’s handled it the right way. I think that has a lot to do with it.

“As far as revolutionizing the game and things like that, God doesn’t make a lot of people like RGIII, bruh. So I don’t think they’re going to be revolutionizing the game. We haven’t seen anyone like him. We should enjoy it. He is really, really special, but I think not only his ability is special; I think he’s a special person. And I think it’s gonna be exciting to see where he goes playing in that NFC East and that brutal scheduling, year in and year out.”

More Redskins coverage from Washington Post Sports:

Chris Cooley is officially back with the Redskins

Jenkins: RGIII vs. Eli Manning: The start of something big

Grade RGIII: Rate Griffin’s performance against the Giants

Boswell: Redskins should admit they blew it on Victor Cruz touchdown

Hard Hits: Redskins defense must stop giving up the big play

Five observations from the Redskins’ loss to the Giants