NEW ORLEANS — Robert Griffin III tossed a football back and forth from his right hand to his left late Sunday afternoon inside a cramped room at the bottom of the Superdome. Still wearing his game jersey, pants and shoulder pads, the Washington Redskins‘ beacon of hope chatted with dozens of reporters who came here knowing they would witness the beginning of an era but unsure of how the details would unfold.
And when the first act of this new drama finished, when the Redskins completed a 40-32 upset of the New Orleans Saints and quieted the booming decibels here, Griffin held the symbol of the day in his hands.
That football was the one with which he completed an 88-yard touchdown catch-and-run to newly-signed receiver Pierre Garcon in the first quarter. It was the rookie quarterback’s first NFL touchdown and, just as notably, the first touchdown scored by this retooled Redskins‘ offense. All the explosiveness and play-making ability Washington demonstrated in outscoring the NFL’s best offense was there in that pigskin.
“We did a lot of things that we hadn’t shown in preseason,” Griffin said, eye black strips still on his cheeks. “I think everybody executed it to a tee, being able to adapt the offense as [the defense] started to catch on to things and continue to keep them off guard. I thought everybody did great job.”
Griffin’s NFL debut was one for the ages. It somehow managed to match the excessive hype that preceded this day for months. He was 19 of 26 for 320 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 139.9.
He became the first quarterback in league history to throw for 300 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in his NFL debut.
How he got to that historic perch, though, is the strongest indication this is a new version of the Redskins‘ offense, not the anemic ones of previous last-place seasons.
“It really doesn’t matter what happened two years ago, but this is a different football team,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “I’ve been telling you that from Day 1: more character, we’ve got more skill.”
That, plus contributions by additions Garcon, receivers Joshua Morgan and Aldrick Robinson and rookie running back Alfred Morris, crystallized, for one afternoon at least, Shanahan’s vision when he assembled this team.
“It’s kind of all this stuff that we see on paper, all this stuff we see on tape,” said tight end Logan Paulsen, who was part of Washington’s sluggish offenses the last two seasons. “It’s kind of starting to become a reality.”
Griffin established a new paradigm on the second play of the game when he took Washington’s second offensive snap out of the shotgun formation, faked an inside handoff to Morris and then raced around the right side for 12 yards and a first down.
He completed all six of his passes on the opening drive, which culminated in a 37-yard field goal. All the completions were screens. Griffin, demonstrating poise and savvy beyond his years, checked out of designed running plays at the line of scrimmage because of what formations the Saints showed.
“It’s pretty impressive when a young guy comes in and plays with that composure especially in an environment like this,” Shanahan said.