LANDOVER, Md. -- A few minutes after Washington's 17-16 victory over the Giants on Monday night made the NFC East a competition instead of a rout with four games to play, the raucous crowd of 80,000 at FedEx Field couldn't get enough of its hero. "RG3! RG3! RG3!'' the crowd chanted.
Robert Griffin III deserved it. The Redskins, 3-6 just 16 days ago, have won three straight, all against their NFC East rivals, and though Griffin shared the spotlight Monday night with rookie 1,100-yard back Alfred Morris, it's clear to see why Washington is breathing down the Giants' necks this morning. In Washington's 3-0 streak, Griffin's completed 73 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and one interception -- and run for 185 yards.
Three weeks ago, after a loss to lowly Carolina, the Redskins looked very much like they were playing for 2013. Coach Mike Shanahan even said they were going to have to use the rest of the 2012 to help plan for the future. But a funny thing happened on the way to playing out the string: Griffin got hot. And the offense came along with him. So now Washington isn't just playing for a shot at the sixth playoff seed and the second Wild Card spot. The 6-6 Redskins are a game back of the 7-5 Giants and hold the major tiebreaker edge. Washington and New York split the season series, and the Redskins' edge in division record -- 'Skins 3-1, Giants 2-3 -- likely means Washington would win the division in the event of a tie with the Giants after 16 games.
"We knew three weeks ago that every game we played would be like a playoff game,'' Shanahan said after this one. "We're really proud of our team -- the way we focused, the way we played for 60 minutes, how hard we played."
What's going to make Washington a tough team to beat down the stretch is the maturation of its Pistol offense led by Griffin. In the Pistol, the quarterback stands about four yards behind center instead of the seven yards in the Shotgun; standing closer for the snap allows the quarterback to get the ball faster, and allows more options in the running game because the back isn't so deep and can hit holes in the line faster. As this year has gone on, the neophyte Washington offense with the rookie quarterback and running back and the new lineup of wideouts and tight ends has learned the offense better week by week. I'd estimate 70 percent of the Washington offensive snaps Monday night at the snap of the ball were run out of the same formation, with maybe a few different motion characteristics.
But imagine how hard that is for a defense to figure out if the formation is the same play after play. "They shouldn't know what we're doing,'' said Morgan. "That's the idea of the offense."
A few times Monday night, you could see Giants defensive signal-caller Chase Blackburn pointing to different spots on the line, trying to read what was coming. And maybe he knew, but when it counted, early and late, the Redskins made life tough for a premier defensive front.
Washington scored two touchdowns on the unseasonably warm early December evening: the first bizarre, the second a product of an offense that wore down the Giants in the second half. Touchdown No. 1: Griffin ran around left end on an option play, with wideout Josh Morgan on his outside shoulder; but as Griffin went down at the New York 13, the ball began to come loose, and as he hit the ground, the loose ball bounced off him right into the arms of Morgan. The stunned Morgan ran the final 13 yards with the fumble for the score.
"We wanted to save that one for the game,'' Griffin said, to a few chuckles afterward.
The game-winning drive -- 12 plays, 86 yards -- finished with a rolling Griffin's eight-yard strike to the suddenly healthy and valuable Pierre Garcon, making it 17-16 with 11 minutes to play. Strange thing with two explosive offenses that no one could score the rest of the way, and Washington ran out the clock to send the crowd chanting into the night.
Looking for a schedule edge down the stretch? Advantage, Washington. After Baltimore at home on a short week Sunday, the Redskins travel to Cleveland and Philadelphian, then finish at home with Dallas. New York's slate: Saints, at Falcons, at Ravens, Eagles.
If, somehow, Washington can beat Baltimore Sunday, the advantage would certainly shift to the Redskins. But the Giants didn't sound panicked as they prepared for the short trip home this morning. "We feel comfortable where we are,'' said Justin Tuck. "We still have a one-game lead. We've been here before. We don't see any reason why we won't be able to bounce back."
Only one reason why: It's not Rex Grossman piloting the chasers anymore. It's a scary option quarterback who has no idea that he should be hitting a rookie wall right now. In the Washington locker room more than an hour after this one was over, Griffin didn't look fatigued or sick of the pressure or weary of carrying a flagship franchise. "This is the fun part,'' he said. The last month of the season should be fun in the NFC East.