RGIII delivers on hype, and more, in starry debut win over Saints
NEW ORLEANS -- Knowing what we know now, it turns out it was the Washington Redskins who got the steal in March when they shipped a mere three first-round picks and change to St. Louis for the rights to draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
I mean, if you could renegotiate the terms of that blockbuster deal today, in light of Griffin's spectacular regular season debut on Sunday in a solar-plexis-punched Superdome, the Rams might wind up demanding Washington's first-round picks in perpetuity, plus insist Daniel Snyder pick up the tab for all those costly improvements St. Louis is seeking for the Edward Jones Dome.
And the Redskins would pay it. Gladly. If Griffin keeps this up, no price would have been too high, no package too costly for a Washington franchise that has been searching for a savior at quarterback at least since Joe Theismann retired several decades ago. If you thought the RGIII honeymoon was going well in Washington so far, the Redskins' 40-32 upset of the chip-on-their-shoulder New Orleans Saints should send it raging to ridiculous levels.
Griffin wasn't just as good as advertised, he was better. He threw for 320 yards (the fourth-highest total for any rookie quarterback in their debut) and two touchdowns on 19 of 26 passing while dismantling the Saints defense with a performance in which both his arm and legs (10 rushes for 42 yards) did significant damage.
You like symmetry? The Redskins scored exactly 10 points in each quarter, the same number Griffin now wears on his back. The 40 points were easily a high for the three-year Mike Shanahan era in D.C., and Griffin's perfect passer rating in the first half (158.3, 11 of 13 for 182 yards and two touchdowns) included an 88-yard scoring throw to new Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon, who happens to wear No. 88.
It was that kind of day in the building the Saints usually own. Washington's future was fully on display, and it looked so bright every Redskins player, coach and team official ought to have been wearing shades.
"It felt like we won a playoff game or a Super Bowl,'' said Garcon, describing the Redskins' jubilant postgame locker room. "It was just exciting. It was great. We were very excited that we did our thing, and we knew that only us in the locker room gave ourselves a chance.''
Pay no mind to the us-against-the-world stuff, because the entire NFL was watching Sunday's game to see how the reigning Heisman winner would fare. But Griffin was remarkably ready for his close-up, and then some. With Washington looking like the poised and polished veteran team, and the Saints looking ragged and skittish, the Redskins scored on long drives, quick drives and everything in between. Washington had 13 possessions and scored on eight of them, four in each half, including a pair of second-half TD runs by rookie Alfred Morris. The Redskins got points on their first four possessions, and seven of their first meaningful eight drives, excluding a kneel-down at the end of the half.
Griffin started the game 8 of 8 for 149 yards with the 88-yard score to Garcon, and by the time he threw his 11th pass of the game, he already had 10 completions for 155 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It may not have wound up being Cam Newton-esque in terms of rookie debut yardage (422 last year at Arizona), but Griffin's performance (one sack, no interceptions, 139.9 passer rating) was even more impressive in that it produced a victory in one of the NFL's toughest venues.
"It was definitely loud,'' said Griffin, who appeared at the podium for his postgame news conference in full uniform, still clutching the football he threw to Garcon for his first touchdown pass. "You can feel it in your body. It's crazy. The guys told me it was going to be like that. It was the loudest place I've ever played in, but why not? It's New Orleans, Louisiana, and it's the Superdome. So we came out and played big in a big arena, a big stage and did a good job.''
Yeah, a pretty good job, which only served to underline what a difference a quarterback can make. Last season at this point, the Redskins were also 1-0, beating the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants at home. But that was a Washington team quarterbacked by the thoroughly average Rex Grossman, and it would only finish 5-11 and in last place in the NFC East. Grossman returned and was in the house here Sunday, but he was inactive this time around, behind both Griffin and his fellow rookie Redskins passer, backup Kirk Cousins.
"I thought [Griffin] played great and [had an] awesome performance,'' Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "He lived up to all the hype. He's as good as advertised. I mean, how many great plays did he make out there?''
Everything is subject to the "it's only Week 1'' caveat, of course, but Griffin signaled that he might be that rare rookie difference-maker who has the ability to lift the production of all those around him. The Redskins have not shown much resilience in Shanahan's first two seasons, but with Griffin in charge, the game turned on the kind of play Washington has not been known for in a very long time.
After the Redskins' opening drive produced a 37-yard Billy Cundiff field goal, the Saints stormed back with a seven-play, 80-yard march of their own, with Drew Brees putting his team up 7-3 on a pretty 20-yard strike to tight end Jimmy Graham. The dome went bananas for their Saints, and the Redskins looked like their day was about to get very difficult as the momentum swung to New Orleans.
But on the first play of the following Washington possession, Griffin, under a Saints blitz, found Garcon streaking across the middle to the left, about 25 yards or so downfield. Catching the ball in stride, with Saints safety Roman Harper taking a bad angle on the play, Garcon out-raced cornerback Patrick Robinson all the way to the end zone, giving the Redskins a 10-7 lead they would never relinquish.
It was a devastating big-play dagger to the heart of the Saints defense, and it signaled that RGIII's Redskins would not be the Redskins of old. They could take a punch, and then deliver one themselves. Griffin watched Garcon streak to the end zone while sitting on his butt after being knocked down, and it's hard to imagine the rookie quarterback making a more dramatic play to start his career.
"That was big, and it was much needed,'' Redskins receiver Joshua Morgan said. "Because it was a kind of statement, to let them know we're going to be here. We're going to bring it to you all game, all 60 minutes.''
Garcon, the former Colts receiver who came to Washington in free agency, called the throw "a game-changer,'' and admitted he had to check the video screen a couple times to make sure he wasn't getting caught from behind by Robinson on the play. "We got lucky,'' Garcon said. "They got out of position, Robert threw a great ball and I caught it and ran. It worked perfect, just like we drew it up.''
It's hard to imagine a more perfect start to the Griffin era in Washington. The Saints were nearly invincible in the Superdome last season, going 8-0 and trailing by 10 points in a game only once. But the Redskins grabbed a quick 17-7 lead in the second quarter, built a 30-14 lead midway through the third quarter and held on as New Orleans mounted a fourth-quarter comeback that could only draw within eight points. And Griffin's fingerprints were all over this momentous Washington conquest.
"The guys in the locker room, I was still a rookie to them [before today],'' Griffin said. "After this game, they told me I'm not a rookie any more.'
When it was over, Griffin celebrated with Redskins fans along the edge of the stands, high-fiving some in an abbreviated victory lap, and drinking in the atmosphere of his stupendous first real work day in the NFL. Griffin once lived in New Orleans during childhood and calls it his hometown, even though he moved around a lot growing up in a military family.
"It's at the top,'' he said, when asked where he ranked Sunday in his personal hall of football thrills. "To play in the NFL, the pinnacle of it all, and win your first game. To go against a Hall of Famer in Drew Brees -- after the game he told me he was proud of me, [and] that's big for him to say after they just lost a game. I respect him for that. But it's definitely No. 1 on my list.''
Indeed it was No. 1, as in the first. But with Griffin, you get the feeling there's much more to come and even bigger, better days ahead. As happy realities go, that's one I imagine Washington wouldn't trade for anything.