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.
"You want him to make this," Griffin recalled Grossman saying, "so you can lead the team down the field and get us a win."
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."
Griffin did, and the Redskins have their second victory to show for it. It's not a stretch, either, to say it's a season-saving win.
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.
Down by 1, one timeout, 1:42 on the clock, first-and-10 at the Redskins' 20-yard line. The Redskins had a chance because of Griffin.
"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."
Not Sunday, though. Not with Griffin at quarterback.
He completed passes to Santana Moss, Fred Davis and Evan Royster, moving the Redskins to the Tampa Bay 41. Tampa Bay played its trademark Cover-2 defense, in which the middle linebacker plays the deep middle. That opened up shorter passes and yards after the catch.
And then Griffin hit the Buccaneers with his legs. He dropped back to pass, and the right side of the field opened up. He took off running with receiver Leonard Hankerson ahead of him to block. Tampa Bay stopped him at the 26. The yards the Redskins then lost on Kory Lichtensteiger's false start penalty, they made back on another completion to Moss.
And get this: the radio communication between Griffin's helmet and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan on the sideline went out during the final drive. Shanahan normally would communicate the play calls to Griffin via radio, but Griffin had to call half of them on his own and run to the sideline to get the others.
The Redskins practice what to do in that unfortunate circumstance, so Griffin was ready for it.
"It was very neat how that practice situation, that practice scenario actually played out in the game," he said. "Hopefully you don't want that to happen, but it was pretty cool."
Cool, just like Cundiff with the game on the line. He missed field goal attempts from 41, 57 and 31 yards earlier in the game. Four misses in one game might cost a kicker his job, so more than victory rode on the final swing of his leg.
The ball sailed high through the uprights with 3 seconds left. Cundiff pumped and re-pumped his fist while teammates congratulated Griffin on the sideline.
Griffin had wanted to stand up high on the bench to watch Cundiff's kick, but tight ends coach Sean McVay pulled him to the edge of the sideline. The leader, out in front.
"We all had a feeling he was going to make it even though the day wasn't so great for him," Griffin said. "He came up big when it mattered."
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