TAMPA, Fla. — Before Robert Griffin III could seize the moment here Sunday evening, there had to be a moment for him to seize. Washington Redskins veteran quarterback Rex Grossman knew that. So when Griffin’s nerves tensed as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lined up to kick a go-ahead field goal in the final two minutes, Grossman steered Griffin toward it.
Griffin proceeded to write the greatest chapter of his Redskins legend to date. He used his arm and legs to lead the Redskins 56 yards in the final 99 seconds to set up Billy Cundiff’s 41-yard field goal in an exasperating 24-22 victory.
“You try to rise to the occasion,” Griffin said. Then he quoted the movie “The Replacements” — a feel-good football comedrama based on the replacement players who won three games for the Redskins in 1987 — because his personality is as vibrant as his play.
“They say great players want the ball in their hands when it’s crunch time,” Griffin said. “It’s true. You want the ball in your hands. When something has to happen, you make it happen.”
If there ever was a must-win game in September, this was it. The Redskins, who lost their two previous games, face a brutal schedule in the coming weeks. Home against Atlanta and Minnesota; at the Giants and Pittsburgh. The climb out of last place might have been impossible from 1-3. Losing to a rebuilding Tampa Bay team would have pushed the Redskins to the precipice.
Instead, they completed the first quarter of coach Mike Shanahan’s third season at 2-2. The alternative was unthinkable afterward inside a locker room filled with ecstatic and relieved players.
“We was confident about ourselves, but you have that funk on you,” receiver Santana Moss said. “When you have that funk, there’s nothing you can do to get it off you but win. Until you win the game, that’s when you get that funk off you.”
The game wasn’t supposed to be this close. Washington built a 15-point halftime lead by outgaining Tampa Bay 232 yards to 132 in the first half.
The secondary finally started to cover. The offense continued to hum with Griffin at the controls. Washington’s winning formula played out on the field during its best half of football this season.
In the second half, though, the secondary reverted to surrendering big plays. The offense stalled because of numerous penalties. And when the Buccaneers took a 22-21 lead on Connor Barth’s 47-yard field goal with 1:42 remaining, the Redskins faced a familiar path lined with dread and misery.
These are not the same Redskins, though, because of No. 10. He embodies hope on the greatest scale as the quarterback who will solve the franchise’s instability at the position, and he also embodies it in the moment.
“The fact that we drove down there and had the opportunity, I’m so thankful because there’s a lot of times where we don’t get the 2-minute run efficiently,” said veteran Reed Doughty, who has seen more than his share of failed comeback attempts. “We go three-and-out and fourth down from our own 20.”