The fans wearing white and burgundy jerseys jumped and hollered as Robert Griffin III tucked the ball and ignited the afterburners in those magic legs of his. They had waited almost 13 months for their beloved Washington Redskins to give them something to cheer. And as Griffin blazed past the defense 76 yards into the end zone, they finally had it.
“That,” left tackle Trent Williams said, “is why he’s on all the Subway commercials.”
Griffin’s electrifying fourth-quarter run capped the Redskins‘ first complete performance of coach Mike Shanahan’s third season. Washington’s offense regained its edge with Griffin actively running the ball again, and safety Madieu Williams punctuated a stout defensive effort with an interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
And when the puzzle pieces came together, the final picture was a 38-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Washington survived the Vikings‘ fourth-quarter rally to end its eight-game home losing streak. The 78,476 fans who witnessed Griffin’s run left FedEx Field buzzing. He’s not too good to be true. This is indeed the quarterback of their team.
“It’s something special that I can do personally,” Griffin said. “It was fun to be able to show everybody that and to help us win the game doing it.”
The win was a counterpunch by a desperate Redskins team on the brink of losing their season. With road trips to New York and Pittsburgh the next two weeks, they were staring at a worst-case scenario of 2-6.
They did it by putting everything together, finally. Griffin returned from last week’s concussion and sparked the offense with 138 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. The undercard was a 7-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw in the third quarter. The main event was his 76-yard sprint. It was everything the Redskins dreamed when they traded three first-round draft picks and a second-rounder to draft this bolt of lightning.
“That’s why he he’s here,” receiver Santana Moss said. “That’s why they rant and rave about him.”
The Redskins‘ 31-12 lead had slipped to 31-26 late in the fourth quarter. This was progressing toward becoming the second crushing collapse of the weekend in D.C. sports.
Washington, however, has Robert Griffin III, the 22-year-old who set national track records in high school. Granted, those were in the hurdles, and he didn’t have to jump anyone on his way to the end zone. But, oh my, did he leave a trail of fire.
Griffin dropped back to pass on third and 6 from the Redskins‘ 24 with 2:56 remaining. As he reached the top of his drop, a hole opened on the left side of the offensive line. The Vikings‘ blitzed up the middle, and the Redskins blocked it.
“I was thinking I’m either going to throw hot, or if they miss this blitz and don’t hit it the right way, then I’m going to run for the first,” Griffin said. “I saw that they missed it, took off running.”
He eluded the reach of a diving defender at the line of scrimmage and then broke into the open field. He cut outside to the Redskins‘ sideline behind receiver Joshua Morgan’s exceptional block of defensive back Chris Cook.
And then Griffin remembered the lesson he learned in suffering a concussion last Sunday. He had a decision to make.
“Thought about running out of bounds because everyone has been telling me that lately,” Griffin said with a laugh. “You know in certain situations, and I felt like I had the guy outflanked. I just took off running. The rest is history.”
“Those are one of the greatest plays on the field, when you just watch from 30 yards away as your guy just blows everybody away,” left tackle Kory Lichtensteiger said. “He can leave people in his dust.”
Griffin jumped into the end zone stands as delirious fans savored their savior. Chants of “R-G-3!” echoed throughout the stadium.
“I got to enjoy the moment a little bit,” he said. “It was pretty fun to hear the crowd and see my teammates on the sideline celebrating as I ran for the touchdown.”
Griffin’s rushing complemented a defense that bent but ultimately did not break.
The Redskins limited running back Adrian Peterson to 79 yards on 17 carries, and they scored a defensive touchdown for the fourth time this season.
It was far from a sure thing early, though. Washington fell behind 9-0 before scoring 24 unanswered points.
It took the Redskins‘ offense until the second quarter to get going. Their first two possessions were a continuation of last week’s ineptitude. They failed on their first four third downs, and Griffin threw an interception on the second possession.
However, Minnesota managed only short field goals on each of its first three possessions as the Redskins‘ defense strengthened inside the red zone.
“They kept us in the game,” Griffin said. “We have so many weapons that if we hold teams to field goals, it’s huge because we can come back.”
Washington’s pass rush was more effective than it was against Atlanta last week, although it wasn’t dominant. Quarterback Christian Ponder’s inaccuracy helped.
Unlike the handful of quarterbacks that have beaten Washington this season by completing passes into tight windows, Ponder missed open receivers at times. He finished 35 of 52 passing for 352 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
New kicker Kai Forbath, a rookie playing in his first regular-season game, completed the drive with a 50-yard field goal. The offense had found its rhythm.
Alfred Morris had a 1-yard touchdown run, and fullback Darrel Young scored on a 6-yard reception.
Minnesota scored two touchdowns late to conjure the emotions of the Washington Nationals’ collapse Friday in the ninth inning of the decisive game in baseball’s National League Division Series.
But Griffin rescued them with the same legs that put him in harm’s way last week. And as the crowd chanted his name, it became fair to wonder: How could he not run?
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