Robert Griffin III saves.
He saves the season from abject failure, for the moment.
He saves this week’s chatter from primarily being about Mike Shanahan’s job security as he heads back to his old Denver haunts thoroughly humbled and instead makes it about this 500-yard, five-touchdown RGIII-got-his-groove-back offense.
He saves the special teams from an even uglier skewering, the brain lock that included kicking to Devin Hester, getting caught napping on an onside kick try midway through the fourth quarter and doing all that it could to lose this game except running into the line judge on the sideline.
He saves Brandon Meriweather from being the head-hunting goat penalized twice for late hits and instead makes the repeat NFL offender’s almost certain suspension this week a side note.
Simply, by engineering his fourth game-winning drive in just his second season, Griffin saves Washington from a humiliating third straight home loss to begin 2013 and a 1-5 stake-in-the-heart record as it beat a resilient, Jay Cutler-less Chicago on Sunday afternoon before a rollicking crowd at FedEx Field.
Almost 300 yards passing and two touchdowns to go with 84 yards rushing on 11, hold-your-breath carries. And the pressurized final drive to seal it. It exasperated Bears Coach Marc Trestman, who after this aesthetically appeasing shootout finally acknowledged why his team was doomed: “Griffin III kept making the plays and moving the football.”
When asked if this was the game he finally regained his 2012 form, Griffin smiled afterward and replied, “Without a doubt. We had a feeling about this game. I know I did. I talked to the guys before the game about having a breakthrough.”
Among the shock of how good Griffin could be a year ago was the realization that his brilliance could camouflage the myriad weaknesses around him.
That guy returned Sunday.
If anything has led to Washington’s miserable start, it’s the realization that there is still simply not enough around Griffin to compensate for his gradual return to form after surgery — not a defense to bail him out routinely, not a big-play special-teamer to turn a game, suddenly not even a money field goal kicker to punch a game-winning, 50-yarder through the uprights.
As Robert goes, so goes his team.
Midway through Sunday, he needed to be special again. And he was, drive after drive, bailing out a defense that couldn’t contain a backup quarterback and bailing out a coach who badly needed a victory heading into this week.
With Cutler going down with a groin injury in the second quarter, Shanahan had to win this game to stall the drumbeat about his future in Washington so he could at least return to Denver with a renewed sense of this team’s potential going forward.
And Griffin had to feel he could still close out a victory after so many had already eluded him as he gradually returned from major knee surgery.
Serious doubt lingered when Josh McCown took Chicago down field in a flash near the end, finding tight end Martellus Bennett in the middle of the end zone for a seven-yard score to put the Bears ahead.
Since McCown had taken over for Cutler, who ended up in the hospital, Chicago’s backup quarterback and Griffin started a game of offensive leapfrog, hurdling each other on ensuing possessions until it felt like Peyton Manning and Tony Romo dueling to the gun.
The pawns were the defenses, which stopped no one for long stretches. Matt Forte would rip off a 50-yard score. Aldrick Robinson would scoot behind the defense and haul in a 45-yard bomb from Griffin.
It went from 17-17, to 24-24 and 31-31 in a blink. Eventually it was 41-38, Bears, with 3 minutes 57 seconds left.
Griffin got the ball at his 20. A quick hitter to Jordan Reed, who is so good and so young he has made Fred Davis obsolete, went for 26 yards. Then Roy Helu Jr. took the baton from Alfred Morris, grounding and pounding for yards. Three short completions to Pierre Garcon later, and boom, Griffin had his team at the 19-yard line with 1:03 left. He fired to Reed on a monstrous third-and-four play from the 13, and Helu bangs it in for the clinching score from the 3 a play later.
Eighty yards in 3:12, replete with poise, precision and great purpose that brought back all the memories of a year ago:
“I just felt like we were in sync,” Griffin said. “You know, we all refer to last year — myself, coaches, media — because last year was a great year offensively for us and as a team. This year, we felt the same for the first time for most of the game, probably the entire game.”
What lies ahead of course are the Broncos, the most complete and dominant team in the National Football League perhaps since the 2007 New England Patriots team that finished 18-1. It’s also the franchise that Shanahan, via John Elway and Terrell Davis, guided to two Super Bowl titles in the 1990s.
As professional homecomings go, this was a much more miserable one at 1-5 than it now is at 2-4, fresh off a victory over maybe one of the 10 best teams in the NFL — albeit one that lost its quarterback midway through the game.
“We’ll definitely play that much harder for him,” Griffin said of Shanahan, adding that he doesn’t know how he will keep his emotions in check in Denver. “He’s our coach. We need to go to bat for him.”
On Sunday, in a game his team so badly needed, Griffin very much had his coach and everyone’s back in that final quarter and especially those final minutes.
“When there is some adversity, you want to be able to fight back,” Shanahan said afterward. “If you can win one of those games like we did today, the guys believe you are going to find a way to win [the rest of them.]”
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
Summary: Washington 45, Chicago 41
The Takeaway: RGIII’s running opens up offense
Photos: More images from FedEx Field
The Insider: Latest team updates
Opinions: The brutal truth about football