RGIII shines in exhibition debut
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As Robert Griffin III walked up the tunnel at halftime of his first professional game Thursday night, he slapped hands with a few fans and couldn't suppress the wide grin on his face.
I asked if he was happy with how he played in his first practice quarter as a pro.
"Extremely happy,'' he said.
Well, he should have been. The stats were good (4-of-6, 70 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, a 145.3 rating), but the other facets of his short night of work -- the presence, the confidence running a new offense for the first time against a team trying to hit him, the touch on two arcing throws -- were more impressive. Griffin didn't play like a rookie. He played like a third-year player used to his offense and the play-calls.
Just as significantly, Griffin, the reigning Heisman winner from Baylor and second overall pick in April's draft, looked as composed and sharp as he did against one of the league's best defensive fronts. Maybe the best: Mario Williams making his Buffalo debut at left end, Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus at tackle, and Chris Kelsay and ex-Patriot Mark Anderson at right end.
You could tell Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan wanted to get Griffin settled down early. On the first two snaps, Griffin handed to running back Evan Royster, and he was stoned for one-yard gains both times. Then Griffin lofted a perfect throw to Pierre Garcon, who caught it for what appeared to be a first down at the Washington 32. But the officials ruled Garcon, who seemed to drag both feet inbounds before landing out of bounds, didn't have both feet in. As long as the replacement officials work games, such calls could be common. "It looked like he dragged his toe for about four yards from the sideline,'' Griffin told the Redskins Radio Network during the first half. "We all thought he was in. But they said it was incomplete, so you've just got to run off the field and move on to the next one.''
The second drive ended in a fumble and a short field resulting in a Buffalo field goal. On the third drive, throwing from the shotgun for the first time, he found an open Garcon slanting from the left 12 yards upfield, and Garcon took it for eight more yards to the Washington 40. Two plays later, on a free play with Buffalo clearly offside, Griffin took advantage of the stop-and-start by the Bills' D and found Garcon for 18 over the middle. Now he was in gear, looking confident and poised. Again in the shotgun at the Bills' 20, he threw a short screen to Garcon, and left tackle Trent Williams went out and made a terrific open-field block to spring Garcon. The former Colt sprinted to the end zone and somersaulted in. Griffin looked happy but not overly so. Like: I expected this.
It was the only touchdown in the Redskins' 7-6 win over the Bills.
The only negative for the Redskins after Griffin's strong debut: Trent Williams, Washington's best offensive lineman, went up the tunnel at halftime limping, seeming to favor his left leg. The team made no announcement about his status during the game, and he was on the sidelines for the second half. If he's hurt and misses time, it'll be a huge blow to the Redskins' effort to keep Griffin clean against opposing rushes.
So Griffin aces his first test. With opening day four weeks away, Washington has to feel good about how Griffin is digesting what coach Mike Shanahan is asking him to do. Earlier in the week, at Redskins camp in Virginia, running back Tim Hightower said Griffin "definitely has that pressure on his shoulders'' to take the Redskins to the Super Bowl.'' For the first time in a while, the Redskins at least have hope they've got a quarterback to help them compete for one.