Reporting David Elfin
We’re a quarter of the way through the NFL season. I trust that anyone who thought that the Washington Redskins gave the St. Louis Rams too much to move four spots in the draft and select Robert Griffin III is as rare as a home team in the Super Bowl.
Forget Washington’s 2-2 record. For all their losing ways in recent years, the Redskins have been at least .500 after the first quarter nine years running. And this year’s edition hasn’t exactly been competing against the Monsters of the Midway. New Orleans, St. Louis, Cincinnati and yesterday’s 24-22 victim, Tampa Bay, are a combined 4-8 when not playing Washington.
The next four foes – Atlanta – which comes to Landover on Sunday — Minnesota, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh are a combined 10-5.
What’s more, the Redskins have scored exactly as many points, 123, as they have allowed. Each of their four games could have gone either way as all were decided by no more than one score and all came down to the final two possessions. So RGIII and Co. could be 4-0 as easily as they could be 0-4.
At 2-2, Washington is not currently playoff-bound and with games against the unbeaten Falcons, the Steelers, Baltimore and two apiece with the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, Philadelphia and Dallas, don’t expect to be watching your heroes come this postseason.
But making the playoffs wasn’t the point of this season even if the powers that be at Redskins Park will never come out and say so directly. It’s no accident that coach Mike Shanahan frequently mentions that the only rookie quarterbacks in recent memory who have finished with winning records are those with a top defense and running game.
But Griffin’s rookie year has so far been nothing but a home run (can I use that phrase in a football column?). The 22-year-old from Baylor is the NFC’s second-leading passer and its seventh-leading rusher. (Take that, Michael Vick). Only Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has a higher passer rating among Griffin’s most important peers than his 103.2, which also ranks fourth in the entire league. The only NFL rookie who has run for more yards than Griffin’s 252 is his teammate, Alfred Morris, the sixth-round selection from Florida Atlantic (where?).
Griffin’s 323 passing yards against the Buccaneers was the second 300-yard day of his brief career. Jason Campbell, the quarterback with the most starts for the Redskins over the previous 21 years, recorded just six games with 300 yards during his 52 starts. With 1,070 yards, Griffin is on pace for 4,280 which would break Jay Schroeder’s 26-year-old franchise record. And Griffin’s four rushing touchdowns have already tied the Redskins’ season mark by a quarterback that had been jointly held by Eddie LeBaron (1955) and Joe Theismann (1979).
Despite playing without No. 1 receiver Pierre Garcon for 11 of 16 quarters, the Redskins have the NFL’s third-best offense. Griffin and Morris lead the league’s top-ranked rushing attack.
And that production is the point of this season in Washington. A year after assembling a solid defense – at least a fine front seven, current impressions to the contrary and with two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and reliable end Adam Carriker done until 2013 – Shanahan has put together his first offense that frightens opponents more than it does Redskins fans. If Garcon regains the form that made him so dangerous before he injured his right foot on an 88-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the opener against the Saints, he, talented tight end Fred Davis, Morris and Griffin give Washington an enviable quartet of players at the skill positions. Trent Williams seems on his way to becoming one of the NFL’s best performers at the line’s most critical spot, left tackle.
With their top choice in next year’s draft sent to the Rams for Griffin and with the NFL imposing an $18 million salary cap penalty for alleged misdeeds in advance of the 2011 lockout, the Redskins will be limited in how many high-profile acquisitions they can add in 2013.
But with the gifted, tough, bold and charismatic Griffin in place at the game’s important position, the arrow is pointing up for the Redskins for the first time in quite a while. If the kid stays in one piece all season – and he was hit a lot less often yesterday than during the previous two games – then Shanahan can do the W thing and unfurl a banner come January that reads “Mission Accomplished.”
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