EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – This shouldn't have been about a rookie quarterback. Not on a day he lost, when the highlight was a 77-yard, game-winning pass thrown to Victor Cruz from Eli Manning, who is currently the top quarterback in the NFC East. No, this shouldn't be about Washington Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III. Not yet. He has, after all, but one division game to his professional career.
However, the New York Giants saw the future of their division on Sunday afternoon. They watched it all but beat them on a miraculous fourth-and-10 and then a touchdown pass late in the game.They saw RG3 elude defenders' grasps, run around tacklers and heave passes deep into the end zone.
"He's faster than I thought," Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said following New York's 27-23 victory at MetLife Stadium.
The Redskins' experiment of forcing a college offense into the NFL – reminiscent of how the Denver Broncos thrived with Tim Tebow last year – keeps working. Every week is supposed to bring the antidote that says you do not use the same plays as the Baylor Bears and expect to move the ball in a league too fast and strong for the option offense. Yet each week passes without anyone solving what the Redskins are doing with RG3. The closest was the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5, and it took a shoulder from linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to knock Griffin out with a concussion before Washington would be slowed.
On Sunday, though, came more brilliance.
Just before the second half's two-minute warning, Washington trailed by four points, facing a fourth-and-10 from its own 23 and the Giants' pass rush pouring in. Knowing a sack was disaster, Griffin scrambled. He ducked. He made Pierre-Paul miss him. He jumped away from another tackler and fired a pass to tight end Logan Paulsen for a first down.
"His eyes just snapped to me," said Paulsen, who later called the play "backyard football."
The future, dressed in a baby blue sport coat and tan khakis after Sunday's game, was asked how he could seem so comfortable in dire situations where the game looked to be falling apart; where he was left to run for his life and make something happen.
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"You have to be," he said. And he said this with ease as if scrambling on fourth down late in an NFL game was the most natural thing in the world.
"Even though you don't know what's going to happen, you have to feel like something good is going to happen," Griffin said.
Then he was asked about the touchdown pass he threw to Santana Moss a few moments after picking up the first down, a throw that dangled perfectly over the secondary and into Moss's hands.
Griffin grinned and said he noticed that one of the two players covering Moss had dropped off leaving only rookie Jayron Hosley, and that Moss matched against a rookie was something he had to take.
The fact he had made the observation so casually, as if he was a 10-year veteran, said something about the odd confidence RG3 has in himself. Nothing – not the NFL, not a concussion, not the ferocious Giants defense, not the absences of targets Pierre Garcon or Fred Davis, who suffered a season-ending injury Sunday – bothers him. Players with far more years in the league crumble in pressure that Griffin seems to love.
He knows how good he was on Sunday with 258 passing yards, two touchdowns and another 89 yards rushing. He knows this league has yet to find a way to stop him, proving those three draft picks Washington traded away were worth the value of having him on the field. He knew too he had won this game for the Redskins and only a defensive slip-up had snatched it away from them.
Later, in a nearly empty Redskins locker room, linebacker London Fletcher was asked as a defensive player how the Washington experiment keeps working long after it would seem some team would have devised a way to stop it.
"It slows you down as a defender," he said. "It keeps you from being aggressive."
The fact that linebackers and defensive ends have to stay frozen in their spots as they try to determine whether Griffin will be running or throwing keeps them from racing as fast as they would want. This means they can't always pour through the line on a blitz, or chase after a ball carrier. That instant of doubt is often all the offense needs. It's enough for Griffin to cut through a hole or around the line.
"He gives us a chance," Fletcher said of Griffin.
This seemed funny to Fletcher. And he chuckled. Because when was the last time they could say that about a quarterback in Washington?
Especially on a day when the NFC East's best quarterback won the game the way he has won many games over the years – with a long, arcing pass that drove a knife into another opponent. This should have been about Eli Manning.
Except RG3 keeps stealing the show.
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