NEW ORLEANS — What the Washington Redskins have in Robert Griffin III isn’t just a quarterback, it’s a performer. No mere quarterback could walk into the crocodile-filled bayou known as the Superdome and, in his NFL debut, torch the New Orleans Saints for 320 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 139.9 rating in a 40-32 win. Only a performer — a player who relishes the spotlight, who lives for such moments — could have done that.
As Griffin put it, “It was definitely loud. You can feel it in your body. It’s just crazy.”
That’s why the Redskins gave away much of the farm, three first-round picks and a No. 2, to get him. They were convinced he was more than just a smart, strong-armed, athletic QB. They were convinced he would perform, especially when his team needed him to. It’s what the best players do.
Sunday was one of those times for RG3. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right? No one expected him to play like a wizened veteran; he is, after all, a 22-year-old rookie, barely eight months removed from Baylor University and the Alamo Bowl. The hope was that he’d be able to function against a regular-season defense — an impressive enough feat for a newbie — and perhaps give off the vibe that: “This is just the beginning, folks. Wait until you see me in Week 17.”
It took Griffin about 15 minutes to accomplish that objective. Clearly, it was setting the bar too low. At the end of the first quarter, he was 7 of 7 passing for 123 yards, including an 88-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon. Many of the throws never broke the line of scrimmage. They were the football version of layups. But who cares? The Saints had no answer for them, and soon the Redskins had a 20-7 lead.
On display was RG3 in all his great variety. RG3 the pocket passer. RG3 the improviser. RG3 the runner (by design). RG3 the scrambler (not by design). RG3 from the shotgun. RG3 under center. Everything but RG3 the quick-kicker.
His coach couldn’t have asked for much more. “The poise the throws he made,” Mike Shanahan gushed. “Just to be able to execute the offense in this type of environment. Pretty impressive when a young guy plays with that type of composure.”
Composure can only carry you so far, though. Then it’s a question of: How much talent do you have? Griffin has enough, on a given Sunday, to outplay the great Drew Brees (a scatter-armed 24 of 52 with two interceptions to RG3’s none) — and, in the process, to reduce the Who Dat bunch to booing their heroes. Repeatedly. Why? All together now: Because the kid’s a performer. Circumstances like these just seem to make him better.
It’s been a long time since the Redskins have had a quarterback like that. And frankly, it was hard to tell in the preseason how soon Griffin could be that kind of quarterback because he played so sparingly. He threw far fewer passes in August (31) than the other four rookie QBs who started in Week 1 — and didn’t play at all in the final tuneup. You couldn’t help wondering: Would he be as sharp as he needed to be when the bell rang?
It’s now obvious that it was part of the Shanahans’ Grand Plan. They wanted to created as much mystery as possible about RG3 — and about the offense the Redskins would run — even if it meant he got limited reps in game situations. It was “to our benefit,” Mike said, that the Saints had “not seen Robert do some of those things before.”
Things like taking a shotgun snap on third-and-6, with an empty backfield, and trying to run for the first down. (Griffin came up a tad short, but Alfred Morris picked up the remaining inches on fourth.) You won’t see Rex Grossman — or many other quarterbacks — do that. You also won’t see them flee the pocket to the left, then throw back across the field to Fred Davis on the right sideline for a 26-yard gain to the New Orleans 19. That particular gem set up the second Redskins touchdown.
“Obviously, Robert presents a big problem,” Shanahan said.
Indeed he does. And while the Saints‘ defense will never be confused with the San Francisco 49ers’, Robert figures to present problems for any opponent because, among other things, it’s difficult to defend against inspired spontaneity.
As dreamy as the day was for Griffin, it wasn’t entirely hiccup-free. There were a couple of botched handoffs, one resulting in a fumble (which he quickly recovered), and in the final minutes he took a 9-yard loss when he tripped and fell on a keeper. There was also one pass — but only one — that was a bit underthrown and came dangerously close to being picked off.
You also have to be concerned about all the hits he took. Quarterbacks are going to be targets; it’s the nature of the position. But you don’t like to see them get blasted, as Griffin was a few times, running for a 1-yard gain. It just isn’t worth the price. And eventually, the price will be paid.