Robert Griffin III is Washington’s MVP and easily could be the NFL’s Rookie of the Year. But Alfred Morris earned both distinctions for the regular season finale. On national TV with Dallas in town and a playoff berth at stake, Morris delivered a statement Sunday and made history in the process.
RG3 had a noticeable hitch in his giddy-up, still recovering from the right knee injury he suffered in Week 14. His passing was off, too, as he recorded a season-low nine completions (though a couple of his 18attempts were dropped). Griffin managed to scamper six times for 63 yards, running often enough to keep Dallas honest on read-option plays, but this clearly was his worst game of the season.
No worries. The other half of Washington’s two-headed rookie monster — “Flash & Cash” — was more than capable to pick up the slack.
Morris set career highs in attempts (33), yards (200) and touchdowns (three) in a 28-18 victory, killing Dallas’ playoff hopes and breaking Washington’s single-season rushing record. The Redskins called his number time and again, and he didn’t let them down.
“I said from the beginning he’s a very special talent,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “He’s going to be making plays like that for a very long time in this uniform. He doesn’t surprise us because we know how talented he is.”
It didn’t take long for everyone else to find out Sunday night. Morris had 92 yards by halftime and 141 yards entering the final quarter. His two fourth-quarter touchdowns sealed the game — although there was a momentary scare when it appeared that he might have fumbled on the last one, with 69 seconds remaining and Washington ahead, 21-18. An official signaled that Dallas recovered in the end zone before the ruling on the field was changed to a touchdown and upheld upon review.
With the division clinched and next Sunday’s home playoff game set — Seattle at 4:30 p.m. — coach Mike Shanahan singled out Morris in the victorious locker room.
“I said of all the guys, the guy who separated himself today from the rest of the pack was Alfred,” Shanahan said. “For him to play at that level for a full 60 minutes and get 200 yards with over six yards per carry … I’m very, very happy for him.”
Morris, who has 1,613 yards, said he was honored to break the record held by Clinton Portis (1,516 yards in 2005). But evolving into the type of celebrity that Portis became isn’t in Morris‘ future; he said it’s just not in him.
“I’ll never be a star,” Morris said. “Other people might think I’m a star but I’m just Alfred. … I’m still going to be the same guy that walked in and nobody knew who I was. I couldn’t change even if I tried.”
He’s a breath of fresh air as is, humble to a fault and as earnest as possible. The same is true of RG3, but Morris is like a pickup to Griffin’s sports car. Both will get you to your destination, but one is slower and not as sexy.
Shanahan loaded up on his rookie halfback Sunday because that’s what the Cowboys’ defense dictated. RG3’s gimpiness wasn’t a factor and the cold weather didn’t play into the decision, either. Shanahan believed his sixth-round gem could handle the pressure and carry the team into the postseason, and Morris proved him right.
“That’s our bread and butter, the run game,” Williams said. “Any time you have a special back like Alfred, you have to feed him the ball and let him put his fingerprints on the game. As an offensive lineman, you don’t want to sit back and pass protect 30 to 40 times a game. You want to pound the ball, and I really like seeing Alfred run.”
That’s not as exciting as watching RG3 chuck it downfield or take off around the end, but it’s highly effective, good enough for Morris to finish second in the NFL in rushing and rushing touchdowns (13). Griffin said he doesn’t mind handing off to Morris and letting him do the dirty work, especially on nights like Sunday when the wind chill dropped into the 20s.
“I don’t fret about passing yards or anything like that,” RG3 said. “If the running back gets 200 yards and I’m celebrating with him, making it easy for me, I’m all for that. We know the receivers will be called upon pretty soon, but whenever you have a running back like Alfred do what he did tonight, you have to keep riding that.”
All the way to the playoffs.