Just about every superlative has been attached to quarterback Robert Griffin III during his dynamic rookie season with the Washington Redskins. Now, after two brilliant performances in wins last week that put the Redskins back in the NFC playoff chase, some knowledgeable pro football observers are using a new term to describe Griffin: NFL most valuable player candidate.
Whether he rightfully belongs in that conversation is a matter of debate.
Some experts say Griffin means as much to his team as any NFL player and certainly deserves to be in the mix. Others acknowledge that Griffin is doing remarkable things, especially for a rookie, but point out that the Redskins’ record still is just a modest 5-6. The MVP talk should be reserved, they say, for top quarterbacks and others who are leading their teams to loftier spots in the standings.
“It’s going to be hard because they’re 5-6,” said former quarterback Kurt Warner, a two-time league MVP for the St. Louis Rams. “An MVP is not coming from a losing team. That’s not going to happen. Now, if he keeps playing the way he’s played these last couple games, if they win some games and those other guys fall off down the stretch, maybe it can happen. But I’m not putting him in there yet.”
There is support for Griffin’s candidacy within the locker room at Redskins Park.
“The MVP is a guy that takes his team to the playoffs,” veteran Redskins tight end Chris Cooley said Wednesday. “So a lot rides on the way he plays in the last five games to get to the playoffs. Without a doubt, this team is drastically different built around him. He does everything that you can ask for.”
There is no debating that. Only 11 games into his NFL career, Griffin is the league’s fourth-rated passer, behind three former MVP-winning quarterbacks — Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, New England’s Tom Brady and Denver’s Peyton Manning.
Griffin also is the league’s 21st-leading rusher, with only running backs ahead of him on that list. He has the Redskins, who are ranked 28th of 32 teams in total defense, within striking distance of a postseason berth in the NFC. After beating two NFC East foes, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, four days apart last week, the Redskins are two games behind the first-place New York Giants in the division race and one game in back of the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks for the second NFC wild-card spot.
“You have to consider him, when you look at what he’s been able to do,” former NFL quarterback Trent Green said Wednesday. “You look at it number-wise and compare it to what Cam Newton did last year as a rookie, and Carolina wasn’t in the playoff race. Washington is still contending. If they put themselves more of a factor in the playoff race, you would have to consider him.”
The Redskins host the Giants on Monday night at FedEx Field.
Griffin had four touchdown passes in each of the Redskins’ two wins last week. Former Cowboys and Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson started the MVP talk by saying on Fox during its Thanksgiving Day coverage that Griffin is “the most valuable player in the entire National Football League.” Johnson later clarified his remarks by saying he knows Griffin won’t win the MVP award this season but he would choose Griffin first if starting a team from scratch.
Griffin, asked during his weekly news conference Wednesday about Johnson’s remark, called such praise “definitely an honor” but said: “It’s not something that you strive for. You don’t play for awards. At least I know I don’t play for awards. I play for the guys in that locker room.”
The problem with Griffin’s candidacy is that Brady, Manning and Rodgers are putting up MVP-worthy numbers for teams with better records. Quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh and Matt Ryan of Atlanta also have been mentioned, along with Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, the league’s leading rusher.
“He’s done some incredible things,” Warner said of Griffin. “But the bottom line, first and foremost . . . [is] you have to be on a better team to get strong consideration for MVP.”
Warner, now an analyst for the NFL Network, said by telephone this week that if the Redskins manage to finish 9-7, Griffin might merit some consideration.
“An MVP could come from a team like that,” Warner said. “But even then, it’s an uphill battle if there’s someone comparable from [a team] with 12 or 13 wins. There’s already the bias that he’s a first-year guy. Whether that’s right or not, when you’re a rookie, people talk about, ‘Who’s the rookie of the year?’ And then they look at someone else for the MVP unless you’re just totally outperforming everyone. And I don’t think you can say that, with the years that Tom and Peyton and Adrian Peterson are having.”
Former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, a former teammate of Brady’s and now an NFL analyst for ESPN, began a phone conversation regarding Griffin this week by saying: “I love that kid.” Told that the subject of the conversation was Griffin’s possible MVP candidacy, Bruschi laughed and said: “I don’t know if I love him that much.”
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