Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III knows what propelled him to success as a rookie in the NFL. He understands what has been missing early in a disappointing 2013 season.
Now, it’s time to get back to it. Griffin ran for 77 yards against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. It was more than his combined yardage through the first four weeks of the season (72). Expect to see more of that starting this Sunday against the Chicago Bears as the quarterback continues to progress from last January’s knee surgery.
After a cautious preseason in which Griffin was kept out of game action and then ran far fewer of the read-option plays that fueled Washington’s offense last season, there were signs of a breakthrough in the Dallas game. But they weren’t necessarily obvious in a 31-16 loss in which the offense again struggled to punch home its chances inside the 20.
“Everybody wants me to slide and get out of bounds and do that whole thing,” Griffin said Wednesday during his weekly press conference at Redskins Park. “For me, I can’t really listen to that. It’s not that you ignore it. I understand that people are concerned. But at the end of the day you have to go out there and play with your instincts.”
That was obvious on a third-and-5 play early in the third quarter. On the previous play Griffin had wildly overthrown wide receiver Pierre Garcon at midfield on a miscommunication. Dallas collapsed the pocket on the next snap, but Griffin stepped up and immediately sensed space in the middle of the field.
He took off with a burst rarely seen so far this season and cut toward the right sideline. Cowboys safety Barry Church finally caught up to Griffin, but the quarterback had enough nerve to deke the defensive back into taking a personal foul penalty.
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“I gave [Church] a little move there before I went out of bounds, but I was clearly out of bounds,” Griffin said. “He hit me and it does [stink], but some guys are going to take those penalties. It’s hard to walk that line and you’ve always got to try and protect yourself.”
Griffin disputed that his knee simply feels better now, allowing him to run more — especially after the Redskins had a week off for their annual bye. He simply thinks he needs to run more to help them get back into the NFC playoff chase. At 1-4 and in third place in the NFC East, time is growing short.
“He’s got to be himself. Robert is Robert,” Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. “We don’t ask quarterbacks to do anything in particular. We have a game plan going in. Whatever that game plan may be, we are hoping they execute it.”
In the first quarter Griffin scrambled for 15 yards. Later on that same drive he had an opening for a touchdown on a quarterback draw up the middle from the 9. But Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee was waiting for him at the 2. When center Will Montgomery whiffed on a block, Lee was there to stop Griffin just shy of the end zone.
It was a frustrating experience that was repeated often on Sunday. The Redskins moved the ball inside the 20 three times out of 12 possessions. That alone is not a great rate of success. But all three times they settled for Kai Forbath field goals. It wasn’t anywhere close to enough to overcome massive special teams errors that gave the Cowboys 14 free points.
Washington’s lone touchdown actually came from 45 yards out on an Alfred Morris run. Griffin also threw an interception from the Dallas 23 when receiver Santana Moss fell down on a pass pattern from just outside the red zone. It was yet another missed opportunity on a night filled with them and, according to Griffin, it has to change.
“We’ve just got to score,” Griffin said. “We moved the ball really well on Sunday night — 400 yards of total offense — and you don’t ever really see that with just 16 points. We had a lot of field goals and we just can’t do that. It’s just that simple.”