The quarterback reclined in a black folding chair and didn’t say a word.
Celebration swirled around Robert Griffin III as the clock pushed toward midnight Sunday. Shouts of “NFC East champs!” and “I’m on cloud nine, baby!” Black championship hats fresh from the box. A mouthguard tossed aside in the frenzy of the Washington Redskins‘ first division title since 1999.
The man who seems to hold an answer for every question, every defense, remained silent. Words, for once, escaped Griffin. He wanted to absorb the 28-18 victory, even as a three-man network television crew recorded each breath.
Outside the FedEx Field locker room, fans streamed through the concourses and roared their savior’s name. Mittened fists punched the sky. Every fresh volley of “R-G-3! R-G-3!” shot puffs of white breath into the frigid air.
“In 17 years,” one usher told another, “this is the best I’ve been.”
No, Griffin wasn’t at his best Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. His sprained right knee, protected by a bulky black brace, hurt. He looked a step slow. Even coach Mike Shanahan allowed that Griffin was off, as much as someone who wears Superman socks can be. But the measure of this quarterback is more than his 4.41 40-yard dash and strong right arm and marketer’s dream of a smile.
“The most impressive thing … is he is a winner,” tight end Chris Cooley said. “Robert believes in every bit of his heart that he can do everything to win a football game. In my opinion, his presence has changed the aura of this team and the way we believe and that we play.”
The numbers said Monday was Griffin’s worst professional game only by the standard of his remarkable rookie year — season lows in completions (nine) and completion percentage (50 percent) and quarterback rating (66.9). Passes sailed away from receivers. His six runs looked like those of a quarterback with a sprained lateral collateral ligament.
“He always tells me he’s fine and you can see he was hurting a little bit even though he won’t admit that to me,” Shanahan said. “I don’t want to say he was a little bit slower, but you can see he wasn’t his normal self when he was running.”
Of course, Griffin still rolled up 63 rushing yards. The usual acceleration when he found a hole was absent. Even Griffin at well less than full strength was a matchup the Cowboys’ 17th-ranked rush defense couldn’t handle.
“I was healthy enough to run,” Griffin said.
So, he dived and hobbled and slid. Nine yards and a hit. Three plodding yards out of bounds. Fifteen yards on a run he would’ve scored on when healthy. Nine more after a fake handoff. Seventeen slow-motion yards. Ten yards untouched into the end zone.
Some of the runs hurt to watch. But they pointed to the confidence Griffin brought to the Redskins, the sort that put him in front of 14 television cameras after the game and say in a matter-of-fact voice, “after we go out and do what we want to do and win the Super Bowl, then I’ll celebrate.”
That’s Griffin’s difference.
“Since I played here,” Cooley said, “I haven’t been part of a culture that thought they’re going to win a football game every single week.”