Given how the afternoon started, the Washington Redskins had no real business being in the game Sunday in the fourth quarter. They gave up a 73-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. They trailed by 17 late in the first half — and it would have been worse if not for a defensive score by Rob Jackson. Somewhere in between, Trent Williams, guardian of Robert Griffin III’s hind flank, limped off with a knee injury. And of course, the team’s most threatening receiver, Pierre Garcon, didn’t even suit up because of a lingering foot ailment.
No, when the Cincinnati Bengals took a 24-7 lead in the opener at FedEx Field, it had all the makings of a disaster for the home team. Except for one thing: With a quarterback like Griffin, the Redskins are never out of it. With a quarterback like Griffin, they always have a chance even when the defense is burned for three TDs of 48 yards or longer and the offense doesn’t get its bearings until the second half.
Despite their late exertions, the Redskins lost 38-31 to old friend Marvin Lewis‘ club and saw their record drop to 1-2. But that’s not what you should take away from Week 3 of the 2012 season. What you should take away is this: This QB they’ve pinned the franchise’s hopes on, RG3, is capable of bringing them back from any deficit, and there’s no price you can put on that. They just have to make sure they don’t get him killed before they surround him with enough talent to be a serious contender.
And that’s a legitimate concern, considering the six sacks and assorted other body blows the Bengals inflicted on him. Griffin was hit when he went back to pass (especially after Williams exited), he was hit when he ran (by design or otherwise) and he was hit — particularly hard, it seemed — when he merely pitched the ball on the option.
“They weren’t even playing the running back,” Alfred Morris said of the visitors’ tactics. “They were just attacking him deliberately. I didn’t like that too much.”
Still, it was perfectly legal — what you open up your quarterback to if you involve him in the running game as much as Mike and Kyle Shanahan do. And that’s what the Redskins have to be careful about in the months and years ahead; RG3 is going to be a target, sure, but the Shanahans don’t have to make him quite as much of a chew toy as he’s been these first three weeks. Or to put it another way: You don’t turn a Maserati into an off-road vehicle. You treat it with more respect than that (unless you’ve got another Maserati in the garage, which the Redskins don’t.)
This wasn’t Griffin’s best game by any means. Cincinnati’s ability to put him on the ground — often — kept him from getting into much of a rhythm early. But in the second half, he racked up 247 yards passing and rushing and directed three long touchdown drives (80, 86, 90). And in the last 1:47 he flirted with taking the Redskins 98 yards to send the game into overtime. How did he do this? By dumping it off underneath for gains of 11 and 12 yards, then running for gains of 10, 12 and 19 (and drawing a personal-foul penalty in the process).
This moved the ball from the Washington 2 — where the Redskins had looked hamstrung after Kevin Huber’s near-perfect pooch punt — to the Cincinnati 19. It also moved the crowd of 80,060 to the precipice of delirium. But that’s as far as Griffin could go for now, at least. He was sacked for a 15-yard loss on the next play, and two penalties against Washington (false start, unsportsmanlike conduct), left him with a third-and-50 and just six seconds left. Good luck with that.
It was in the last series, unsuccessful though it was, that RG3’s true grit came through. After taking a severe pounding for the second straight Sunday, he still had enough left for one last charge.
“Some teams think if you hit the quarterback enough [he’ll] stop coming after you,” he said. “I just want to let everybody know that that will never happen. I’ve never played scared. No matter how many times they hit me, I’m going to get back up.”
Rest assured the NFL will get the message. Lewis certainly appeared to. “Obviously,” he said, “the best thing for Robert Griffin III is having him sitting on the bench.” You don’t often hear coaches talk like that about rookie quarterbacks. They’re usually thrilled to have them on the field. But Griffin can hurt you in so many different ways.
It changes everything, doesn’t it? The Redskins haven’t won a game after trailing by 14 or more at the half — they were down 24-10 to the Bengals — since 1991, their last Super Bowl season. There have been so many times in the past two decades when they’ve been in this situation and you just knew they weren’t coming back, that their quarterback didn’t have it in him.
But that isn’t the case anymore. RG3 had the Redskins 19 yards away from OT, with 29 seconds to play with, before his protection broke down again. The Redskins may get behind in games now, but their circumstances are never entirely hopeless. Not, at least, as long as they keep this kid upright.