Trick play gone awry a setback in worst game of RG3’s NFL tenure

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PITTSBURGH — There is little Robert Griffin III hasn’t done in his first two months in the NFL, from compiling the league’s top completion percentage to leading quarterbacks in rushing. The rookie spawned a new meme, Griffining, and returned from a concussion to deliver the longest run by a quarterback in 16 years.

Then he ran a pass route Sunday at Heinz Field.

No, that’s not a misprint.

After an unrelenting early-season string of big hits, the Washington Redskins preached protection to Griffin. Run out of bounds instead of going for the extra yard. Slide, don’t dive. Throw the ball away. Avoid contact. Play smart.

But in the second quarter of the 27-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Griffin found himself alone, exposed and, eventually, belted during an unusual trick play.

“I’ve run that play a lot of times,” coach Mike Shanahan said, “and quarterbacks have walked in.”

The Redskins use an imaginative series of formations, from the pistol to a four-man backfield, to take advantage of Griffin’s transformational ability to run and throw. The offense, though, is short on speed with receiver Pierre Garcon and tight end Fred Davis, the top two playmakers who don’t wear a Roman numeral on the back of their jerseys, sidelined by injury.

Still, the play represented a departure from efforts in recent weeks to shield Griffin from needless contact.

Facing 3rd-and-4 on their 43-yard line, usually a short pass, Griffin scamper or an option run would gobble up the yardage. None of those calls came. Griffin flipped the ball to Joshua Morgan as he rolled right. The quarterback, meanwhile, sprinted downfield in front of the Steelers‘ bench.

Shanahan expected the Steelers to be in man-to-man on the play. They were in zone. That was a problem.

Morgan, who spent time at quarterback at H.D. Woodson High School in the District, lofted the ball across the field and through the raindrops toward Griffin. After the game, Shanahan expressed surprise the receiver could throw that far.

The coach, the quarterback and the receiver noted the play’s success in practice. Left unsaid, of course, was the “success” came against the Redskins‘ defense ranked 32nd in the league against the pass.

“Usually he’s wide open,” Morgan said. “I gave him a chance to go up and get it. He was right up under it.”

Morgan seemed mystified as to why the play didn’t work.

Griffin slowed, then jumped for the ball around the 20-yard line. Cornerback Ike Taylor swatted it away. An instant later, free safety Ryan Clark, running full speed, hammered Griffin around the shoulder pads. The opportunity for a free shot at an unprotected quarterback is a defensive fantasy.

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