- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — Exactly which version of Robert Griffin III would show up at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday was a subject of great curiosity.

Perhaps it would be the fleet-footed, able-bodied quarterback who set a plethora of records during his rookie year. Maybe it would be the stiff-bodied gimp who struggled through much of last season after knee surgery. Feasibly, it would be a young quarterback still learning the ways of the professional game under a new coach and in a new offensive system.

In some regards, all three evaluations held a shred of accuracy in the Washington Redskins’ 29-26 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Playing in his first game since dislocating his left ankle six weeks ago, Griffin demonstrated he has plenty to work on — but that his development into a true quarterback did not lag during his time off the field.

“What I said leading up to this game was that I was going to lean on the guys around me,” said Griffin, who completed 18 of 28 passes for 251 yards, a touchdown and an interception. “Everybody made plays out there for me that allowed my rust not to show as much and I was able to be sharp in the passing game. I attribute that more to them being prepared and taking care of their job and making my job easy.”

Griffin didn’t stumble into the simplest of situations. In the preseason, and in the season opener at Houston, he struggled with the requirements of new coach Jay Gruden’s offense — which, in actuality, isn’t all that different from the system employed by former coach Mike Shanahan.

His return also came at a time where the offense had been efficient under Colt McCoy, the third-stringer-turned-starter who stepped in for Kirk Cousins two weeks ago. McCoy, despite a pair of victories, would not be the Redskins‘ long-term answer at quarterback, but pundits had argued all week that he should remain in the position to make sure Griffin, with his persistent injury history, was completely healthy.

SEE ALSO: Redskins notes: DeSean Jackson continues run of big plays

“He’s been out five, six weeks, or however long it’s been,” said wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who had four catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. “He did a great job coming back this week practicing. He made the right decisions. The trainers thought he was in good enough shape to play, but you really can’t get that back as far as the time you miss.”

Griffin, then, was acutely aware of his position on Sunday morning. On several occasions, he reinforced what was essentially an us-against-the-world type of message to his teammates, reminding them that nobody outside of the team believes they’re capable of succeeding.

Concurrently, he and several other players received word that ESPN was reporting their jocularity in the locker room on Friday — a routine occurrence at the end of a week of practice — was a sign they no longer supported Griffin as their quarterback. Gruden and Redskins players angrily dismissed the report following the game, with the coach calling it “amateurish” and “small-time reporter-reporting fiction.”

Focusing on football in his postgame press conference, Griffin refused to dissect his own performance, routinely noting that he, and not his teammates, lost the game. His coach gave him mixed reviews.

“I think Robert came in and competed,” Gruden said. “I thought he gave us a chance to win. [He] threw some good balls, took some sacks he maybe shouldn’t have taken, missed a throw or two. … Overall, I can’t really grade him, but I like the way he competed and made some plays.”

Gruden wasn’t shy about mixing up the Redskins‘ game plan to take advantage of Griffin’s abilities. He called several designed runs and zone-read option plays, and the quarterback rushed seven times for 24 yards. Forced out of the pocket in the first quarter, he prolonged a play with his feet, eluding two Vikings tacklers by scrambling to his left and delivering the ball to running back Roy Helu.

Later in the first quarter, Griffin threw a well-placed ball to wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who snagged it in double coverage for a 49-yard gain, and in the third quarter, he hit tight end Jordan Reed in stride for a 17-yard gain on third-and-4.

Griffin, though, also had his hitches. An interception by Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was on a poorly thrown pass intended for wide receiver Andre Roberts, with Griffin throwing the ball far too inside on an out route.

He was sacked twice at the end of the second quarter and once on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, and on the following possession, he was sacked again, holding the ball for nearly five seconds before being brought down by defensive end Brian Robison.

Ultimately, Griffin ended up in a position he has frequently thrived in. With the Redskins trailing by three points with 3:27 remaining because of a failed two-point conversion, he could not close the gap, guiding them just 28 yards on six plays before the drive stalled with a low throw on a crossing route to Pierre Garçon on fourth-and-6.

The result wasn’t what Griffin wanted, but frequently, the process is about more than results.

“I need to play better for that to happen, regardless of any box score or any stats,” Griffin said. “I know I can play better, and I know that we can play better. We will do that after the bye week.”

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