Maybe Robert Griffin III really is Superman.
We haven’t seen him leap tall buildings with a single bound and he’s certainly not more powerful than a locomotive, but at 22, the rookie is taking the Redskins places they’ve never been before, the latest being yesterday’s 38-31 victory at Dallas.
Billy Kilmer quarterbacked Washington past the Cowboys in an NFC Championship Game. Joe Theismann and Mark Rypien directed Super Bowl victories for the burgundy and gold, but none of those more experienced passers could beat Dallas in its house on Thanksgiving.
With the whole country and the rest of the NFL watching, Griffin ended that franchise-long failure for Washington in just his 11th NFL game. And, of course, he did it with style, leading a 28-point second quarter onslaught that was reminiscent of the 35-point destruction that Doug Williams wreaked on Denver in the same quarter of Super Bowl XXII not quite 25 years ago. Griffin threw three touchdown passes – to three different receivers — in that quarter to give the Redskins a 28-3 halftime lead and then sealed the triumph with a fourth scoring strike that proved to be the game-winner in the fourth quarter.
That toss to Niles Paul made Griffin the first rookie since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger – 20 years before he was born – to deliver two such outings in a season. And he did it in back-to-back games against division rivals.
All athletes are performers, but some of the greatest perform even better on the biggest stages. Bob Gibson and Reggie Jackson thrived under the pressure of the World Series. Bill Russell and Michael Jordan lived for the cauldron of the NBA finals. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux played for the Stanley Cup as if they were skating in October games in Buffalo or Winnipeg. Joe Montana and Eli Manning seemed to be made for the spotlight of the Super Bowl.
It’s way too early to consider RGIII an all-timer, but the evidence so far certainly says that he plays his best when he’s under the most scrutiny and the game means the most to his team. In his much-hyped NFL debut at New Orleans and Washington’s three NFC East games – the first in the nation’s biggest market, New York, against the defending Super Bowl champion Giants; the second with the Redskins desperate to end a three-game slide; and yesterday against their archrival in the league’s biggest stadium and on national TV, Griffin put up preposterous numbers.
In those four games, Griffin completed 73 of 97 passes for 1,089 yards, 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions for a ridiculous 142.6 passer rating. He added 244 yards on 36 carries. And if the defense had been able to hold on for just 73 more seconds against the Giants, the Redskins would have won all four of those games.
That 142.6 passer rating is less than 16 points from perfection and is 20 points higher than the NFL season record that Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers set last year. Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh, Griffin’s fellow Texan and first-round draft choice, holds Washington’s record with a 109.9 mark in 1945.
But even more telling is this stunning comparison: in Griffin’s seven less-critical NFL tests his touchdown/interception ratio is only 4-2, his passer rating is a solid 86.1 and the Redskins are just 2-5.
Let me repeat: big games: 142.6 rating, 12-2 TD/INT ratio, 3-1 record. Other games: 86.1 rating, 4-2 TD/INT ratio, 2-5 record.
It’s like RGIII is two different players, one spectacular and one merely good. Go ahead and try to convince me that the Copperas Cove Kid doesn’t rise to the occasion.
Considering that Washington’s next game will be Griffin’s “Monday Night Football” debut in his first revenge date against the Giants and that two of the final four contests are also NFC East rematches, the Redskins just might be in pretty good shape despite their 5-6 record.
And that’s just for the rest of this season. Sometimes it’s hard to remember just how young and inexperienced Griffin is. With five games to go, his 104.6 rating is the league’s third-best, trailing only those of Rodgers and Denver’s Peyton Manning, the sport’s only four-time MVP. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger holds the rookie record at 98.1.
Not coincidentally, Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Roethlisberger quarterbacked four of the last seven Super Bowl victories. That’s pretty sweet company for Griffin and should make for pretty sweet thoughts for Redskins fans at least until the Giants’ game a week from Monday.
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