- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Late in the second quarter Sunday afternoon, an unusual noise filtered through FedEx Field.

Boos, lots of them, rippled toward Robert Griffin III.

The franchise. The made-for-television smile (with the portfolio of national endorsements to match). The skills that were supposed to transform playing quarterback in the NFL. The No. 10 jersey that served as a rare point of unity amid Washington’s unceasing fractures. The paparazzi-like obsession everything from with minutiae of his recovery from the offseason surgery on his right knee to details of his wedding registry.

All gone in a few throaty seconds of frustration in the 23rd game of Griffin’s young career.

The quarterback glided back three steps, locked on his target, then flung a pass that long-arm Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget swatted down at the line of scrimmage, his second such play in the series.

Griffin flung his arms in exasperation. He looked human.

The Redskins and Griffin, of course, found a way to escape the Chargers in overtime and keep the season from tumbling into oblivion. But the quarterback’s up-and-down second season continued. The now-familiar cocktail of overthrown passes and hell-bent runs and plays made when they mattered most mixed together again in another reminder of the bumpy path of developing young quarterbacks.

We’re watching a quarterback in progress. At times, the result is going to be swatted to the turf. That’s the way of quarterbacking in the NFL. Griffin is far from a finished product. To expect otherwise is to buy into the same hype that hung his 74-foot image from the Newseum before throwing a regular-season pass and splashed his face over ESPN in August as part of a self-congratulatory documentary on his recovery from the injured right knee.

Last year created the illusion, to some extent, that Griffin would be immune to the usual challenges of adjusting to sport’s most difficult position. After all, if a rookie’s churning legs and right arm could generate highlights at such a prodigious rate, the second time around could only get better, right?

The rookie romp made you believe things would always be that easy.

Instead, we’re watching Griffin learn on the job. We’re watching the Chargers bat down four passes — he finished 23 of 32 for 291 yards — as the quarterback shrugged off the problem as not having a clear answer.

Problems overshadowed last season by the Redskins’ ferocious running game, his unfettered ability to dance out of trouble and the freakishly low five interceptions are now more apparent.

Griffin’s smooth words deflect credit with the same ease he sheds would-be tacklers. The words, as well, leave his growing pains at the position as little more than a few items, always vague, to correct.

On Sunday, the gifted quarterback’s duality was on display. For every play that evoked murmurs of discontent, there were moments like the drive to win the game on the first possession of overtime that wiped away memories of errors befitting a rookie. Or the tumbling, terrifying hit he absorbed in the third quarter at the end of a 10-yard run to secure a first down.

“I saw an opportunity to fly and got my wings out,” Griffin said.

He mentioned critics and, later, insisted the unnamed critics he brought up didn’t matter. The words weren’t convincing. Unsolicited, Griffin related a postgame conversation with Chargers safety Eric Weddle with the not-so-subtle undercurrent of ignoring said critics. The backhanded jab showed a quarterback who, in fact, cares about what people think, no matter how much he insists otherwise.

The problem, in part, is of his own construction. Griffin’s built an off-field empire unrivaled by previous NFL youngsters and that’s helped raise expectations to a level difficult to sustain for any second-year player, much less one returning from a serious knee injury.

Coming off last week’s disastrous appearance in Denver against the NFL’s worst pass defense that caused Pierre Garcon to repeatedly use the word “suck,” Griffin focused on efficiency and decisiveness. Both areas improved. Issues remained. Accuracy, a season-long issue, is one, from the pass incomplete well over Santana Moss’ head to another well over the head of Garcon. Even some completions were off-target, like the 16-yarder to Garcon that caused the receiver’s legs to go out from under him as he adjusted to snag the ball.

Griffin lobbed a lazy pass to Logan Paulsen on the goalline, when a dart would’ve scored. On another player, he decided to scramble before completing his reads when time still remained in the pocket. Sometimes he stared down receivers with all the nuance of a tractor beam.

Then Griffin made those head-shaking plays, passes zinged to Garcon in stride and tacklers left behind, that made the boos seem a dusty memory.

This is life with a young quarterback. Even Robert Griffin III.

We forget he’s just 23 years old. We forget he’s thrown just 693 passes. We forget he’s human.

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