In retrospect, perhaps Robert Griffin III should have played a quarter in the preseason. Actually, make that three quarters. Because that’s just about how long it took the Redskins’ quarterback to get into rhythm and begin to resemble the NFL’s reigning offensive rookie of the year Monday night against the Eagles.
NFL head coaches get second-guessed every week. It’s part of the job. And, you know what? Mike Shanahan’s decision not to play Griffin at all during the exhibition season will get dissected by the Tuesday morning quarterbacks—and rightfully so—after a slow start doomed the Redskins to a sloppy, season opening 33-27 setback at FedEx Field.
“The one thing I look at is that I’m hoping he’s going to be with us for a while,” Shanahan said after the game, asked about the decision to not play Griffin in the preseason. “Our priority was getting him ready for the season, and not putting him in there too quick.”
You’ve got to wonder how much additional risk the Redskins would have assumed by playing Griffin a little in the Redskins’ fourth and final preseason game in Tampa 11 days earlier.
The guess here is not that much.
A month ago, Griffin said he hoped to persuade Shanahan and the team’s medical staff to allow him to get a few reps. It didn’t happen and the result was rather predictable: Griffin showed signs of rust, particularly early on, following a 35-week layoff.
On RG3’s third pass attempt of the game, he attempted to squeeze the ball into triple coverage and it wound up landing in the hands of Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin. It certainly wasn't the type of decision we had become used to seeing from Griffin late last season.
The Redskins’ next possession went like this: Incomplete pass, Griffin pitch to Alfred Morris, Morris falls on fumble in end zone for a safety and a 12-7 deficit. Morris appeared to take his eyes off the ball. But the pitch certainly could have been more accurate, as well.
Jitters. Out of sync. Lack of timing. All of those were issues early for Griffin, who finished the first half 5 of 11 passing for 53 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
Things got worse before they got better.
On the Redskins’ first possession of the second half, Griffin was picked off by Eagles’ corner Cary Williams, who stepped in front of Pierre Garçon along the sideline to snag a pass that was simply late getting there.
When was the last time Griffin threw two interceptions in a game? Oh that’s right, never. In fact, he threw only five picks in 15 regular season games as a rookie. Two plays after the costly turnover, LeSean McCoy zigzagged his way through the Redskins’ exhausted defense for a 34-yard touchdown and 33-7 Philly lead.
Interestingly, Griffin’s second interception also marked the beginning of his turnaround. It’s almost as though the first half was Griffin’s preseason and he was now ready for the regular season to begin, because he was much sharper, comfortable and confident from middle of the third quarter onward.
On the Redskins’ final two possessions of the third, Griffin completed 9 of 14 pass attempts. The first possession ended with a rare miss by Kai Forbath from 40 yards out. The second concluded with Morris rumbling five yards for the offense’s first touchdown of the season.
Griffin looked even more polished in the fourth quarter as he completed 13 of 19 attempts, including a pair of touchdown passes to Leonard Hankerson. The second scoring pass to Hank, in fact, couldn’t have been nicer as Griffin lofted it 24 yards into the end zone, just out of the reach of Patrick Chung and right into Hankerson’s waiting hands.
“It was a great throw. Robert read the defense and put the ball in the back of the end zone and I tracked it down,” Hankerson said. “It was a great play.”
And all of a sudden the Redskins were an onsides kick away from having chance to win the game.
“I don’t know if you can attribute it to rust, but [Griffin] came back and gave us a chance to win,” tackle Trent Williams said. “Without him, we wouldn't have even had a chance to come back and win that ballgame.”
That chance, of course, never came. But Griffin's second-half surge does provide the Redskins with some hope as they prepare to face the Packers at Lambeau Field next week.
Their best player is back and has shed the rust he should have been allowed shake in the preseason.
- Tarik El-Bashir, CSN Washington