ARLINGTON, Texas — There have been pitfalls and potholes and assorted other stumbling blocks this season for the Washington Redskins. But here they are, with five games to go, and all of their goals are still within reach.
They’ve seen to that, improbably, with five days of inspired play against two of their NFC East playmates, punching out the Philadelphia Eagles 31-6 and then, on Thanksgiving, holding off the Dallas Cowboys 38-31.
Five days. That’s all it took to change the course of a season, one that looked headed for the breakdown lane after a home loss to lowly Carolina had left the Redskins at 3-6. But sometimes Bye Week heals all wounds — or something like that. The Redskins returned from their R and R, got Pierre Garcon and his troublesome foot back in the lineup and started playing their best ball of the year … at a time when they had to play their best ball of the year. If they wanted their year to extend into January, that is.
Now they’re 5-6 and have 11 days to steel themselves for a Monday-night matchup against the division-leading Giants (6-4), a club they had on the ropes the first time around. (I’ll spare you a recap.) Win the rematch, extend their winning streak to three (for the first time in the Mike Shanahan Era) and the playoffs become even more real for the Redskins.
At that point, they’ll be the hot team with the hot quarterback, and who wouldn’t want to be in that position? I’m referring, of course, to Robert Griffin III, who posted a perfect passer rating (158.3) against the Eagles and, in his Texas homecoming, lit up the Cowboys for 311 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
In so doing, he summoned memories of another Heisman Trophy winner from hereabouts, Earl Campbell. Thirty-three years ago, in his first pro game in Dallas, Campbell, the Texas Longhorn-turned-Houston Oiler, helped spoil Thanksgiving for the Cowboys by rushing for 195 yards, including TDs of 61 and 27. Griffin, pride of Baylor and Copperas Cove, was every bit as spectacular Thursday; by halftime, he had the dispirited crowd chanting his name and booing the home club.
Some players, the special ones, do these kinds of things when the TV lights are brightest. And as regular-season games go, there aren’t many bigger stages than Thanksgiving at Cowboys Stadium. But as he keeps showing, RG3 is completely comfortable in such surroundings. Indeed, he seems to live for such moments. The greater the scrutiny, the better he plays.
And he needed to against Dallas, because his teammates didn’t exactly come out and set the tone in the first quarter. They started sluggishly on offense — dropped a pass, didn’t protect the quarterback very well — and on defense allowed the Cowboys to drive for a chip-shot field goal in their opening series.
Two plays into the second quarter, though, Griffin took matters into his own hands. On first-and-15, off a shotgun snap, he arched a 68-yard rainbow of touchdown pass to wide-open Aldrick Robinson to make it 7-3. Then Dallas began turning the ball over — and more Redskins TDs followed. A Dez Bryant fumble led to a 1-yard score by Alfred Morris. A Tony Romo interception with 30 seconds left in the half paved the way for a 6-yard TD flip to Santana Moss. In between, RG3 threw for another score, a 59-yarder to Garcon that, admittedly, was more Garcon than RG3.
(Just a terrific grab of a pass that was behind him — and an equally terrific run afterward, particularly given his injury. “The turf wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” he said. “We put a lot of cushioning inside the shoe to make the pain to away as much as possible. … I [also] had a lot of adrenaline going tonight. That helped the pain go away a little bit,” too.)
Add it all up and you get Redskins 28, Cowboys 3 — 28 Washington points in a single quarter. The only bigger quarter in Redskins history is the 35-point haymaker Doug Williams laid on Denver in Super Bowl XXII. That, too, came in the second quarter.
As Griffin put it, “We were showing not just ourselves and the Cowboys but everybody what we’re capable of.”
To which Kory Lichtensteiger added: “That’s something we’ve got to keep working on — not having these big chunks of the game where we’re struggling. Fortunately, we’ve got Pierre back, and Aldrick is playing great. It’s pretty cool.”
The second half, at the outset, had all the makings of a clock-killing drill. The Cowboys quickened pulses for a moment or two when Bryant broke loose for an 85-yard touchdown late in the third quarter; that made it 28-13. But Griffin wasted little time returning the favor, leading a long drive on the next possession that ended with a 29-yard TD pass to Niles Paul, the latter’s first NFL score.
Which is another mark of a special player: He does what’s necessary, what his club needs him to do. RG3’s club needed him to stop the bleeding at that point, so he stopped the bleeding. (And this is a 22-year-old quarterback, I’ll just remind you. Sorry, but words are beginning to fail.)
Dallas rallied for two more touchdowns, though — the second after a rare Griffin mistake (read: interception) — to narrow the gap to 35-28. No matter. The kid QB merely took the Redskins down the field again, far enough for Kai “10 for 10” Forbath to boot the clinching 48-yard field goal.
“I feel the sense that something is building,” Griffin said. “When you’re 3-6, your character of your team is tested. I experienced playing on some teams that had tough years, but it’s how they respond after those losses. So you’re sitting there at 3-6, if you don’t beat the Eagles, now you’re 3-7 and that can kill your season or just the morale of your team. We won that game …”
So ended five days in the life of the 2012 Redskins, five of the best days they’ve had in a long time. A 3-6 season has become a 5-6 season, and despair has been replaced by possibility. Shanahan’s team still has much work ahead of it, but the door has been opened — and more than just a crack.