Reporting David Elfin
During his weekly press conference on Monday, Robert Griffin III was asked how he would define success in his preseason debut three days later.
The wise beyond his years rookie quarterback said, “If we could put some points up or just a really good, long drive, I think that’d be good enough for me.”
So now we can add omniscience to the 22-year-old’s superb skill set that includes superior intelligence, charismatic personality, rocket arm and world-class speed.
That’s because after Washington’s first two series last night against Buffalo went nowhere, Griffin put together an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended with his screen pass to Pierre Garcon that the receiver turned into a 20-yard touchdown that somersaulted Washington into the lead it wouldn’t relinquish en route to a 7-6 victory.
“That first first down is always the toughest one to get, but once you get that, you can start to get into a flow,” said Griffin, who had completed just one of his first three throws (admittedly with one Garcon catching one out of bounds and tight end Niles Paul mishandling another) and teaming with running back Evan Royster to fumble the ball over to the Bills at the Washington 21.
However, Griffin, being the cool customer that he is, responded to the miscue by connecting with Garcon on his final three attempts for 58 yards and the touchdown. It wasn’t a performance for the ages, but you had to like the Copperas Cove kid’s accuracy, and more important, his moxie, even if it came against the bumbling Bills, who at 10-22 were a game worse than the Redskins the past two seasons.
Fourteen snaps in a preseason game against a Buffalo team that hasn’t made the playoffs this millenium is far from a viable sample of what’s to come for the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor, but it certainly wasn’t evidence that the Redskins were foolish to trade three first-round draft choices and a second-rounder to St. Louis for the right to select him second overall in April.
Coach Mike Shanahan will be ecstatic if Griffin can go 4-for-6 for 70 yards and a touchdown every three series this season against the likes of Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Pittsburgh and the two games apiece against NFC East rivals Dallas, Philadelphia and the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
“He did an excellent job, managed the game well,” Shanahan said. “He did everything you asked him to do. He was very calm, cool, collected.”
Griffin, who finds joy in the drudgery of practice. the give-and-take with the media, and his interactions with fans, said that the game in the much-anticipated game against Buffalo was actually easier than facing Washington’s defense day after day.
“It was fun,” Griffin said. “Practice is a lot harder than the games. You can see all the reads a lot clearer just because you’re not going against that defense. The holes were a lot bigger.”
In the absence of injured guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Chris Chester and right tackle Jammal Brown, who’s on PUP, the offensive line didn’t spring any holes, keeping Griffin, fellow rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins and veteran Rex Grossman from being sacked on 38 dropbacks. So second-year guard Maurice Hurt, rookie guard Adam Gettis and right tackle Tyler Polumbus, a street free agent last October, deserve kudos. And X-rays on Trent Williams’ foot were negative after the left tackle got stepped on during the game’s lone extra point.
Meawhile, that defense that gives Griffin trouble every day at Redskins Park shone in Orchard Park. Led by outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who had a sack and a pass defenses, the starters held Buffalo to 40 yards over three series. Then, reserve nose tackle Chris Baker and the backups kept the Bills out of the end zone on six straight plays inside the Washington 5 late in the second quarter. All told, former Buffalo linebacker Jim Haslett’s defense limited the bumbling Bills to two field goals, 219 yards, 12 first downs and 4-of-16 on third downs.
“I was very pleased with the way they handled themselves,” Shanahan said. “(That) shows you a lot about our players, (the) character of our guys.”
The coach was talking about his defense, but his rookie quarterback’s character was tested last night, too. And Griffin came up aces. As usual.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin