- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 21, 2014

When the Redskins got the ball back late in Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Darrel Young walked over to quarterback Robert Griffin III, the franchise savior-turned-beleaguered backup-turned-default starter.

“Hey,” Young said, “this could be a chance to get people off your back a little bit.”

Griffin had not started, finished and won a game for the Redskins in 413 days, a period of time spanning parts of two seasons, two head coaches and two trips to the bench. Yet here he was, on the edge of field-goal range with the score tied and less than two minutes left on the clock. A rare victory was at his fingertips.

After Griffin connected with Pierre Garçon for a 23-yard gain, Kai Forbath kicked a go-ahead field goal, and David Amerson batted down an attempted Hail Mary pass, the 24-year-old could finally leave the field with a smile. The Redskins beat the Eagles, 27-24, and afterwards, coach Jay Gruden was asked if Griffin had earned a chance to start to start Washington’s season finale against the Dallas Cowboys.

“We won today, so heck yeah,” Gruden said. “He did a great job.”

Griffin completed 16 of 23 passes for 220 yards on Saturday, including game-changing completions of 55 and 51 yards to DeSean Jackson. Though he was not perfect, taking two sacks and throwing a floating interception into double coverage in the fourth quarter, Griffin was ultimately able to lead Washington to a win.

And, in Gruden’s mind, that’s all that matters.

“That’s the biggest factor. That’s the number one factor. That is it,” Gruden said on a conference call Sunday afternoon. “Obviously, we look at the production and all that stuff and what he could’ve done maybe, but winning football games is the only thing that matters to me for a quarterback.”

The Redskins had lost six consecutive games before Saturday’s victory, including each of Griffin’s past three starts. The third-year quarterback was skittish in the pocket and indecisive with his reads, leading Gruden to bench him Nov. 26 in favor of Colt McCoy, a more experienced quarterback who had also led the team to back-to-back wins earlier in the season.

“We had that losing streak going, we were looking for answers and trying to make changes that would help us win the football games, and that’s why we made some of the decisions we made back in [the] earlier part of the year,” Gruden said. “But now that Robert got this win, got the monkey off his back so to speak, it’s great to see, and he’ll definitely be the starter next week.”

Gruden repeatedly praised Griffin on Saturday night despite the quarterback’s continued shortcomings. He said Griffin did an “excellent” and “outstanding” job of managing the game, adding that, “I’ve been impressed with Robert. I’ve been impressed with him.”

Griffin, meanwhile, deflected praise, instead pointing to Bashaud Breeland’s fourth-quarter interception that set the stage for the game-winning field goal.

“A lot of guys in the locker room told me that everything I have personally been through this year, it was big for me to go out there and play like I did and help lead this team to a victory,” Griffin said Saturday. “Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do it. If Breeland doesn’t get that pick at the end of the game, we’re not up here smiling.”

Gruden noted that Griffin looked more comfortable and confident in the offense Saturday against the Eagles, but he couldn’t point to any single reason for that progression.

“It’s never going to be perfect,” Gruden said, “but I think his continuing just to work and learn and study the game and study the gameplan and get to know these concepts and how we’re trying to attack a defense is all starting to pay off a little bit. We weren’t perfect by any stretch on offense, but I was happy the way he competed and made some big throws in crucial times and obviously protected the ball, so it was good to see.”

While monitoring Griffin’s individual performance, Gruden was also paying careful attention to the way the rest of the offense responded to the quarterback. He noticed the wide receivers “going full bore” both before and after the catch, as well as the determination of left tackle Trent Williams and center Kory Lichtensteiger to play through injuries.

Though Griffin is not unanimously beloved in the Redskins’ locker room, winning certainly helps.

“I think he’s the ideal quarterback — has a lot of talent, he’s young,” Jackson said of Griffin after the game. “He just suffered some unfortunate injuries and that’s tough to be able to miss time as a professional athlete — not only as a professional athlete, as a starting quarterback in this league.

“It’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day as far as him as a player and him as a person, I think he’s a good guy. I think he does everything he needs to do. He works hard, so a lot of characteristics, everything is there to be that guy.”

Griffin has one year remaining on his rookie contract, and the Redskins have until May 3 to pick up the fifth-year option on that deal — likely at a cost near $16 million, far more than the $3.3 million base salary he’ll make next season — or sign him to a long-term extension. A win against the Cowboys could help solidify his place in Washington.

Saturday’s victory was at least a start.

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