Behind star trio, rookie QB class playing beyond its years; mail
LANDOVER, Md. -- "It's all being ready to play at a younger age,'' Robert Griffin III said early this morning, putting those crazy striped socks on at his locker at FedEx Field. "I mean, look at how [South Carolina defensive end] Jadeveon Clowney rushes the passer. He could have played in the NFL coming out of high school. We're just better prepared entering the league now."
But we're talking rookie quarterbacks now. In Week 13 of this NFL season, seven rookies started at the most important position on the field. The three best -- Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson -- had games ranging from clutch to incredible, all leading fourth-quarterback comebacks with playoff meaning:
• Wilson, the 75th pick in the April draft, took the Seahawks 97 yards to a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, and then 80 yards for an overtime touchdown -- against the Bears, at Soldier Field -- in a 23-17 upset of Chicago.
• Luck, the first pick in the draft, and his Colts were down 33-21 at Detroit with four minutes left. He took Indianapolis 85 yards for one touchdown, then 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown, all in a combined two minutes and 30 seconds. Colts 35, Lions 33.
• Griffin, the second pick in the draft, was down 16-10 to the Super Bowl champion Giants early in the fourth quarter Monday night. He led Washington on a 12-play, 86-yard drive, finishing it by rolling right and drilling the winning eight-yard touchdown pass into the gut of Pierre Garcon. Washington 17, New York 16.
Rookie Ryan Lindley's a debacle for Arizona, but Nick Foles of the Eagles went to Dallas and put up 33 points on the Cowboys, Brandon Weeden broke a 13-game road losing streak for Cleveland by winning at Oakland, and Ryan Tannehill continued his respectable freshman year for Miami in a loss to the Patriots.
"You want to be
In the last three weeks, I've spoken to all three of the star rookies, and the one similarity is that none is surprised with his success. They are similarly humble, but ... well, here's an example: When I was in Indianapolis the week before the Colts played New England, I asked Luck if he was looking forward to playing Bill Belichick for the first time, and being matched up against a great quarterback like Tom Brady. "I'm looking forward to playing the New England Patriots and trying to get this team a win.'' Pause. That was it. What that said to me was,
After the Seattle win Sunday, Wilson said, "I'm really not surprised by what's happening. It's our time, to be honest with you. The way Andrew goes about his business, the confidence Robert has when he takes the field, you can just see how well they've been trained for this opportunity.''
That's part of it. "The college game is becoming the pro game,'' Washington tight end Logan Paulsen said succinctly Monday night. "What we're seeing speaks to the evolution of the college game. Look at how ready Robert was. He's out there against the Giants tonight, spitting nails."
Perfect example: Griffin played both the shotgun (seven yards behind center) and Pistol (four yards) at Baylor, so when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan saw how quickly he adapted to the preferred mode of the Pistol, he began piling it on him. Washington played it sparingly in the opener against New Orleans. "But Kyle saw how well it worked on our zone-read plays, so he started piling it on us, and now we're pretty much ready to use it all the time if we want.''
This Pistol is going to be a real problem for defenses, particularly with Griffin playing it. I'd say at least 30 of the 51 offensive plays Washington played Monday night looked similar: Pistol formation, a back or tight end, or both, alongside Griffin; receivers split to varying widths.
The Pistol is better than the Shotgun for Washington for a couple of reasons. A quarterback gets the ball quicker from center than if he were seven yards away, which is good for the running game because a back either in play action, on a customary handoff or the option game doesn't have to stand so far back from the line of scrimmage. "It's more natural for the running game,'' linebacker London Fletcher said. "It looks like you actually might run instead of just having the back in for protection."
Plus, for a quarterback who's going to run as much as Griffin -- still a danger, in my opinion, for a 218-pound quarterback in a league of Giants, and giants -- starting four yards behind the line instead of seven is an advantage. You get the ball faster, and you can read the defense while moving laterally and looking upfield. Griffin looked so natural running it (five rushes, 72 yards) Monday that I won't be surprised to see offensive coordinators who have quarterbacks with some running ability study the Pistol this offseason. It's a copycat league.
"If you look at what teams are doing,'' Griffin said, "we all have help. I've got great weapons on the outside and a great back, and a great playcaller. Andrew, he's got an offense that has faith in him to throw it 50 times a game if he has to. Russell's got Marshawn Lynch.''
But it all starts with the quarterback, and these three young ones: Wilson, who just turned 24 last week; Luck, 23; and Griffin, the baby of the lot at 22.
Paulsen, nodding over at Griffin in the Washington locker room after the win Monday night, said: "He's the key cog in the machine. We can't run any of this offense unless the defense has respect for him and all he can do.''
Respect? That's a given at this point. "Awe" might be next.
An overwhelming number of you wrote after Monday's column with strong opinions of the Jovan Belcher story, and of my reporting on it. So I'm going to let you have the floor.
BELCHER IS A MONSTER.
Mike, the majority of emailers feel that way.
HIS FRIENDS COULD HAVE DONE NOTHING.
You're right. I think it will be shown when the facts have been presented that Quinn and his teammates couldn't have helped Belcher, but let's see how it all plays out in the next few days.
TOO EARLY TO TELL.
My gut feeling is no, but I can't tell what the next month will bring. What we don't know is whether owner Clark Hunt is going to want a new general manager, and if he does, it's highly unlikely a new man, unless he's very close to Crennel, would want a lame-duck coach to start his franchise makeover.
PERKINS IS THE STORY TOO.
I never said he was. The vast majority of you who wrote about my column were critical that I seemed to make a sympathetic figure out of Belcher. I don't think I did that. I think what I did, even as I read the column over a second time, is present the facts of a promising life gone tragically wrong, and how through his agent and the general manager he signed with and the coach he played for, how all the elements intertwined. There's never a right or wrong way to write stories like this, but when I sat down Sunday night to consider what I knew about the story, I thought what I knew about Belcher and his background and what happened Saturday morning was the best stuff I had.
Re Kasandra Perkins, I didn't know much about her, and the job I have -- on Saturday and Sunday of a football weekend -- is to find out as much as I can about the football player and the football team. My editors at the magazine and the website and bosses at NBC are not asking me for a long story or inside information on the life of Kasandra Perkins. Now, as to me not castigating Belcher and throwing stones at him for murdering Perkins, many of you may be right with your opinion that I should have ripped him harshly. My column was about getting you as much information as I knew Sunday night and Monday morning.
THE MEDIA IS TOO SYMPATHETIC TO BELCHER.
I AM WRONG.
Thanks for writing, Laura.
I AM WRONG II.
As I said earlier, I could have been more judgmental about the vicious murder, but it's not what my column was about.
MATT IS DISGUSTED.
If we erase Jovan Belcher from all memory, would we learn anything from what he did?
BOB COSTAS IS OPINIONATED, AND HE HAS THE RIGHT TO HIS OPINIONS.
An NFL player took two lives with a handgun. He didn't take two lives with an abortion. I support Costas, and not just because I believe in what he said. But because strong commentators in our society, on all issues, should never be muzzled.
WHAT WAS I THINKING?
I was thinking about being a reporter, which is a big part of my job. Thanks to all for writing.