ARLINGTON, Texas — Kenny Chesney took the makeshift stage on the field at Cowboys Stadium at halftime Thursday and returned some normalcy to this place. Guitars twanging country music is what you expect to hear deep in the heart of Texas. The sounds that preceded that certainly were not.
This, after all, is enemy territory for the Washington Redskins. It’s the home of their fiercest rival. Their quarterback’s name never would be chanted here.
This quarterback, though, is special. And when his name echoed throughout the stadium, it was one of the best measures to date of Robert Griffin III’s impact on this team.
After Griffin led a 28-point blitzkrieg in the second quarter of Washington’s 38-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, chants of “R-G-3! R-G-3!” rose from the crowd of 90,166, which, it must be noted, contained significant pockets of burgundy among the blue.
“It feels good that they can chant your name,” Griffin said, “because they feel like at that point the game was over.”
His three touchdown passes during a 28-point explosion ignited the uproar. They also propelled Washington back into the race for the NFC East title.
The Redskins (5-6) are a game and a half behind the New York Giants, who visit Dec. 3 for what is now a mega-Monday night showdown.
“I just feel like our team has got something to play for again,” guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. “We’re a team that’s starting to hit our stride at the right time. I think you can feel there’s a little electricity in here.”
The Redskins escaped, but not before unsettling their fans’ Thanksgiving dinner. Their 25-point halftime lead seemed comfortable enough, especially because the defense did its part by forcing two of its three turnovers in the second quarter. But when does this franchise ever make it easy on itself?
The Cowboys scored 15 points in a span of 96 seconds in the fourth quarter to turn a 35-13 deficit into a thriller. Griffin’s interception, the only blemish on a magnificent game, set up the second touchdown and made this more suspenseful than it had to be.
Rookie Kai Forbath saved the day, though, with a 48-yard field goal with 2:58 remaining. His 10th consecutive make to start his career made it a two-possession game, and the Redskins could breathe.
Ultimately, though, it was Griffin’s day. During his rookie season, he repeatedly has played his best in the biggest moments. On Thursday he outdid himself with a game for the ages.
“He has the clutch quality you’re always looking for from your quarterback,” Lichtensteiger said. “He’s a guy that’s not afraid of a big situation and not afraid to put the team on his shoulders.”
In front of a national television audience for his first time as a professional, on the NFL’s heralded Thanksgiving Day stage, Griffin completed 20 of 28 passes for 311 yards, four touchdowns and the interception.
Never mind the fact Griffin grew up three hours south of here. Never mind President George W. Bush and his former coach at Baylor, Art Briles, were among those who came out to watch him work his magic. All he did was engineer the Redskins‘ first victory over Dallas on Thanksgiving and become the first quarterback in the Redskins‘ 80-year history to throw four touchdowns in consecutive games.
“He’s a gamer,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “We all knew that.”
Rookie running back Alfred Morris also had a 1-yard touchdown run in the quarter.
The Redskins hadn’t scored 28 points in a quarter since Oct. 1999, the last season they won the division.
“It was awesome,” Griffin said. “I told those guys if they ball out like they have been, we can’t be stopped.
It was incredible, really. For that 15 minutes, the Redskins looked nothing like the group that recently dropped three straight games and moved to the brink of a disastrous season.
On the first touchdown, Robinson outran two defenders by at least 10 yards and ran underneath Griffin’s high-arcing throw.
Griffin later threw the ball behind Garcon on a crossing route, but Garcon reached back, caught it, and then accelerated on his sprained right foot around the corner and past Carr.
Moss’ touchdown outdid the others. From the 6-yard line, Griffin took the snap, sprinted to his right and perfectly placed a throw on Moss’ outside hip. Moss contorted his feet to tiptoe in bounds.
Griffin hit a wide open Niles Paul early in the fourth quarter for his fourth touchdown. Washington, it turned out, needed those points.
Griffin had the answer, though. He completed 3 of 4 passes for 39 yards on the field-goal drive. That included a 4-yard dart to Moss on third-and-1.
And when Hall recovered an onside kick with 12 seconds remaining, it allowed Griffin to kneel down.
He has thrown eight touchdowns in two victories in five days. And suddenly the Redskins‘ playoff pulse isn’t so faint.
“It’s big for the mindset of everybody that, hey, you might have thought we could do it,” Griffin said. “Now we know we can do it. It’s in our hands.”