Last season's Washington Redskins, the second year under former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, saw the team finish at the bottom of the NFC East with a 5-11 record. Their final season stats don't begin to tell the story. For starters, Washington was first in points per game with 34.0, fourth in yards with 416.0, 11th in passing yards for 251.5 and fourth in rushing yards for 164.5. They scored a total of 288 points yet gave up 367. The Redskins kept possession of the pigskin for half the game yet had a -14-turnover ratio.
Quarterback Rex Grossman had a 57.9 completion rate where he threw for 16 touchdowns (but he also threw 20 interceptions).
Following the season, when the Redskins traded for the second overall pick (to St. Louis and more on that later) that turned out to be Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, there was much excitement for not only was the college season’s Heisman Trophy winner but an upstanding student-athlete.
RG3 was on the Dean’s List twice while in college where he graduated with a degree in political science, but he was also a two-sport star (he is a gold medal athlete in track and field).
Even before RG3 stepped on to FedEx Field (home of the Redskins), his arrival was the cause of a lot of excitement in the DC area.
And after his sterling debut against a very good New Orleans Saints team (a 40-32 triumph), Griffin was named “Offensive Player of the Week” the first time the award went to a rookie. He was also named “Rookie of the Week.” The ultimate tribute came from Saints QB Drew Brees who moments after the difficult loss said he was proud of his fellow Texan. “That’s big for him to say after a loss,” replied Griffin of Brees.
Griffin completed 19-26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 42 yards giving Shanahan much needed flexibility on offense. He found eight different receivers that had New Orleans thinking. The 40 points scored by Washington are the most scored by the team in three years.
It wasn’t only a RG3 show as rookie running back Alfred Morris hightailed it for 96 yards and two rushing TDs. New place kicker Billy Cundiff was a perfect 4-4 as well.
The much-maligned Redskins defense held their own against last season’s top-rated offense, New Orleans, that was tabbed to win in their first season after Bountygate by 9.5 points. Instead it was Washington that came away with an eight-point win while Brees was held to a 46% completion rate.
There were some noticeable flaws for a young Washington team. On their first drive, they made it to NO’s 19-yard lane but they muffed a handoff and had to settle for a field goal. Brees, on their second possession, marched his team down the field for a TD. If you ask me, the crucial response was in the next Redskins possession where on a 12-pass play, RG3 found Pierre Garcon who raced 88 yards for a TD.
For a rookie, Griffin showed tremendous poise in the face of unrelenting pressure in arguably the NFL’s loudest stadium (New Orleans). I love QBs who are not only terrific with the read option (and the seconds one has before he makes a decision on what to do with the football) and are quick on their feet because they create opportunities and he sure did in the secondary where Redskins receivers found themselves wide open.
For sure, I knew that St. Louis, where Griffin should have played had the pick not been traded, would get a good look at him and Washington.
On the road for a second straight week, the Redskins came within a field goal of tying the match were it not for a late penalty on wide receiver Joshua Morgan who threw the football at Cortland Finnegan following a foul. The resulting 15-yard penalty put Washington out of field goal range as Cundiff badly missed a 47-yard attempt.
If anything, this loss showed how Washington is still lacking in its mental fortitude when an opposing team plays them very physical. The injuries to Garcon, who missed the game, and Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo, hurt the team. But none more than Morgan’s miscue.
Looking at RG3’s game, he ran for two touchdowns and threw for another. He completed 20-29 passes for 206 yards while running for 82 more.
Heading into Week Three versus the Cincinnati Bengals, the Redskins’ offense looks good but the defense and special teams need to hold it together. This is a crucial game for Mike Shanahan and his team all right.
Of all the major North American sports, American Football and the NFL was the last one I got into. When I’d go to a magazine stand, if it wasn’t baseball, it was American football that was the cover story. I guess if one is introduced into a new sport, he will almost invariably start with the league’s most popular team. And that was the Dallas Cowboys (although I think that their cheerleaders appearing in Playboy had something to do with that as well). But I soon gravitated to other teams, most notably the Denver Broncos and still later the New York Giants. But I would watch as many teams as I could.
Up to today, I still chat with my friends from the DC area about the Redskins and they find it a little unusual that I have been following Robert Griffin III. For one, having a Heisman Trophy winner is no joke. Second, he is a Gatorade endorser and since I do public relations for that company, it was of further interest for me that he is one of our latest’s endorsers. At the end of the day, it all boils down to good football. And the excitement in DC is undeniable.