It was the biggest test yet for Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
With his team down three points, one lead after another disappearing in the second half, Griffin had 3:57 to either lead his team down the field to a thrilling win or face the consequences of a 1-5 start. In reality, one more loss was going to cripple the Redskins' fading playoff hopes.
Griffin passed the test on a 12-play, 77-yard scoring drive capped by a Roy Helu touchdown run that lifted Washington to a 45-41 victory over the Chicago Bears at FedEx Field on Sunday afternoon.
The Redskins remain in rough shape at 2-4 with a trip to powerhouse Denver looming next week. But more positive signs from their quarterback on Sunday infused a new level of optimism for a team that began the season 0-3. So has Griffin found his form of last year?
"Without a doubt," Griffin said. "We had a feeling about this game. I know I did. I talked to the guys before the game about having a breakthrough. We've been through a lot of adversity, the offseason, and the beginning of the season not going the way we wanted."
Griffin completed 18 of 29 passes for 298 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception. And it was a second consecutive big game on the ground by Griffin. He carried the ball 11 times for a season-high 84 yards, including a 23-yard gain in the first quarter that set the tone. Griffin surpassed his season-high in rushing yards set last week against Dallas (77).
"Everybody saw what we did today in order to run a little bit more and keep the defense fairly honest," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "[Griffin] made some good plays. He was able to run the ball. He competed in the running game and made some good throws on the run. He led a great final drive to put us in the end zone."
On that final drive, the biggest play was a designed rollout on third-and-5 at the 44 with Bears defensive end Shea McClellin in pursuit. A month ago in a similar situation against Detroit, Griffin was picked off when wide receiver Pierre Garcon slowed on the route and a corner beat him to the spot. This time Griffin hit Garcon about four yards out and the receiver fought for a crucial first down.
Later in the drive, the two connected for 15 yards more on two passes. Then Griffin found his favorite target of the day, tight end Jordan Reed. A 10-yard pass to him put the ball at the 3 and Helu took it in on the next play for the game-winning score with 45 seconds left. Griffin was 5-for-7 on that final drive for 58 yards.
"To say [Griffin is] not even a year out of recovery, I hate for defenses to see when he's a year out and another offseason," fullback Darrel Young said.
Reed, a rookie, again made his presence felt. He and Griffin have felt a connection since they started running drills together in May during offseason training as Griffin slowly worked back onto the field following major knee surgery in January.
Reed caught a game-high nine passes for 134 yards. Those are both new career highs, which seems to be a weekly occurrence. He was targeted nine times and caught every pass thrown his way. Griffin even had enough faith in Reed that he went to him on a fade into the end zone on a 3-yard pass with just 27 seconds left in the first half. That touchdown put Washington ahead 24-17.
"After the first couple of games I realized that it wasn't that hard out there and I could do it and I could be a good player," Reed said. "So this is not that surprising."
Those 134 yards set a franchise record by a rookie tight end. Jerry Smith previously held that mark, which was set on Nov. 28, 1965 with 78 yards on six catches. Reed's was the first 100-yard game by any Redskins rookie at a receiver position since Leonard Hankerson had 106 yards on Nov. 13, 2011 against Miami.
"You're watching a huge NFL talent," Washington offensive lineman Trent Williams said of Reed. "He's going to be a star in this league for a long time. We're blessed to get him. You see what he can do. Whenever the ball is in his hands he's a threat."
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