TAMPA, Fla. – His headset went out.
He was a rookie quarterback, on the road, with less than two minutes to save a game and, quite possibly, any hope for a season.
And the headset inside Robert Griffin III's helmet went out.
His head coach, Mike Shanahan, called it "miscommunication." His wide receiver, Santana Moss, called it something else.
"Happens every time," Moss said after the game. "No lie. I've been in the league 12 years, I've been in plenty of games, and the home team goes, 'Oh well.' " Then he mimicked yanking an imaginary plug out of a wall.
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Whatever the reason for the technical difficulty, Griffin had to take Moss and the Redskins all the way down the field, and do so with only the single play he ran onto the field with after a touchback stopped the clock with 1:42 to play and the Redskins down 22-21.
It's funny, because right before Tampa Bay's Connor Barth kicked a field goal to put his team up late in a second half in which the Redskins had scored zero points, backup Rex Grossman turned to Griffin on the Washington sideline and said, "You want them to make this so you can lead the team down the field and win." Griffin laughed and said, "Yeah, I also want him to miss this field goal."
Grossman's comment shows exactly what the Redskins feel they have in their prized rookie. Of all the young quarterbacks in the NFL, how many would likely hear a joke like that in such a situation, with a possible third loss in four games staring a team in the face?
"Every week," Grossman said after the game, "the way he handles himself. The way he translates what he learns – it's extremely impressive. As a whole, that's the most impressive thing to me. Not the plays he makes, but the total sum of what he's been doing. It's the whole [expletive] thing."
So without a functioning headset and with only three pro games of experience, Griffin would have to drive his team down the field and win the whole bleeping thing.
He used most of the RG3 repertoire to do it in a seven-play, 56-yard drive.
Griffin started with a 15-yard pass to Santana Moss: 22 seconds.
Then came a 20-yard dump-off to tight end Fred Davis: 20 seconds.
Then a throw to his left that found Evan Royster for 4 yards: 22 seconds.
By then Griffin had Washington at the Tampa Bay 41. There were 38 seconds left.
It was now second-and-6, and Griffin's receivers sprinted in all directions. Moss found himself open and waved his arm. But Griffin didn't fire.
He did something better.
Griffin recognized this setup from practice, all the way back in OTAs. Back then, things got competitive in the two-minute drills and the Redskins defenders would rush upfield to take away any hope of a pass. It was a pride thing as much as anything back then. But Griffin saw it as easy yards, and he would simply take off.
Sunday, with less than 30 seconds left, he saw the same thing unfold. And when the defense bailed out, Griffin did too. He tucked the ball and forced all the Bucs to scurry after him. And instead of sliding, he leaned in for the extra few feet. First down – Tampa Bay 26.
Two plays later, in came Billy Cundiff, up went the ball, and moments later off went Griffin, sprinting to the 'Skins' fan section and slapping five with the few who made any noise in a stunned Raymond James Stadium. Final: 24-22, Redskins. Back to .500 on the season.
How easy did Griffin make it look? After the game, wide receiver Josh Morgan said, "It was easier today than in practice."
Moss made it sound even easier: "He just called the plays he knows," he said of Griffin. "We just did it ourselves. Err, he did it himself."
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He did it himself all day. With the entire Beltway blowing up all week about how the option was going to get the young quarterback maimed, Griffin accounted for two rushing touchdowns to put his team in a 14-3 first-half lead. (The first touchdown was credited to Pierre Garcon, who recovered Griffin's fumble in the end zone after the QB's 8-yard run.)
Perhaps the most impressive first-half sequence didn't even result in points: Griffin was picked up and slammed to the turf, WWE-style, by Bucs safety Mark Barron, and the entire stadium gasped. It was the kind of tackle that can break ribs, and Barron was whistled for a personal foul.
How did Griffin react? He got up and chucked a 23-yard strike to Garcon on the very next play. The Bucs, now known under new coach Greg Schiano as ruthless tacklers, went after Griffin all day in the same way they crushed Cam Newton here in Week 1. But the result was far different. Griffin kept getting up, clapping and throwing darts. And when he couldn't throw darts, he bolted. Far from seeming rattled, Griffin looked more poised as the Bucs came back and stole the lead. Almost as soon as the Bucs went in front with the Barth field goal, Griffin started barking "Let's go!" to his teammates.
"You can make all the plays," Moss said, "but until you win the game, you don't get that funk off of you. He was just leading us. He's the quarterback."
After the game, Griffin shrugged it all off, mentioning that the headset snafu was something the 'Skins had prepared for anyway. He even quoted a line in "The Replacements" about how all the great ones want the ball in their hands when the game is on the line. Comparing yourself to Keanu Reeves is never a good idea for a professional quarterback, but it seems Griffin can get away with anything.
"He did a great job," Shanahan said after the game. "He kept his poise in there and I thought he played a heck of a football game throughout. He had a lot of focus and a lot of concentration; that's what you have to have as a quarterback."
And as if all the poise and concentration Griffin had during the game wasn't enough, he kept it after the game as he got dressed next to Moss. The two went over the final sequence, communicating in a way they couldn't on the field during the pressure of the moment. It was an impromptu meeting right there in the same locker room where Newton sat alone for 15 minutes three weeks ago after the Bucs dealt the Panthers a brutal opening week loss.
"We ate yards up real quick," Griffin told Moss, his hands darting everywhere. They broke down every play of the drive and decided there was one thing they could have done better on the play where Griffin effectively won the game by tucking the ball away.
"That's a play that can be a killer for us," Griffin said, smiling.
Griffin's eyes went wide in the realization, but it should have been obvious. When you have this guy as your quarterback, every single play can be a killer.
Even when you can't hear a thing.
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