Despite RGIII injury, 'Skins' special season stays on its playoff track
LANDOVER, Md. -- The Washington Redskins became relevant again that moment in early March when they swung the blockbuster trade for the St. Louis Rams' No. 2 draft pick, making the Heisman-winning Robert Griffin III a dream come true in burgundy.
But such a bold move was made with days like Sunday in mind. For games like this one. For comebacks that enter into Redskins lore.
The story just got better in Washington this football season. Much, much better. And when the Redskins make the playoffs this January -- and it says here they will -- this will be the game they look back on. This will be the win that convinced everyone bigger things were on the way this season.
"I really wasn't waiting for this kind of game, I was waiting for this kind of season,'' said veteran Redskins receiver Santana Moss, after Washington stormed back from an eight-point deficit in the final minutes of regulation, overcoming
"We had guys, and the talent. The talent has been here for years. But we didn't have a team. I think that's what Coach [Mike Shanahan] has been trying to do these last three years. This is his third year and he's finally got a group of guys who he can say, 'I trust you guys to go out there and play the way you've been playing these last four weeks.' ''
The way the Redskins have been playing, the playoffs are well within reach. At 7-6, Washington sits just out of the money in the six-team NFC playoff field, tied with Dallas and Minnesota (both 7-6) in the wild-card chase, but only a game out of the division lead with three weeks remaining. The onrushing Redskins are riding their first four-game winning streak since Weeks 2-5 of 2008, and their inspired late-game magic saddled Baltimore (9-4) with its first two-game losing streak since Weeks 5-6 of 2009.
Not even Griffin's heart-stopping knee injury on Washington's game-tying drive late in the final two minutes could dispel the Redskins' mojo on this day. The spectacular rookie quarterback left the game for a play after being plowed into by Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, perhaps hyperextending Griffin's right knee, but then heroically re-entered for four plays before giving way for good to fellow Redskins rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins.
All the ice-cold Cousins did was go 2 of 2 for 26 yards passing, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to receiver Pierre Garcon with 29 seconds left in regulation. Pulled within 28-26, the Redskins still needed the two-point conversion to force overtime, which Cousins quickly added, via a brilliantly called quarterback draw play.
Griffin underwent an MRI Sunday night, and it showed a knee sprain, with no serious ligament damage, according to a Redskins spokesman. No timetable for his return to the field was released Sunday night, but more information will be made available Monday, the Redskins said.
Griffin insisted after the game that the injury was not a repeat of his 2009 ACL tear (same knee), and he even contributed on one leg to the Redskins' remarkable 13-play, 86-yard game-tying drive. Washington won it on kicker Kai Forbath's 34-yard field goal 3:23 into overtime, after another rookie -- punt returner/cornerback Richard Crawford -- ripped off a 64-yard return in overtime, setting up the Redskins chip shot. It was Crawford's first regular season action in weeks, and the longest Washington punt return since an 80-yarder by Moss in October 2008.
Clearly, larger forces are now at work in Washington. Griffin, Cousins, Crawford and running back Alfred Morris (122 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries) are all rookies, but they didn't play like it against Baltimore. Whatever it took to vanquish the Ravens, the Redskins summoned.
"To step up when we're down late in the game like that, [that's when] you can tuck your head and say it's over,'' Moss said. "But we stood in there and stayed strong and fought back and put it into overtime, and then won the game. That just shows a lot where we're trying to go as a team. I can't be more happy with our [game-tying] drive out there. We all went out there and fought together.''
Griffin's presence seems to inspire these Redskins, whether he's on the field or not. The sight of him hobbling on one leg, and still finding the wherewithal to complete a 15-yard pass to Moss and a 22-yard completion to Garcon, added a memorable chapter to his nascent but ever-growing legend.
"I knew as soon as I got hit, as I screamed -- like a man, of course -- I knew that it hurt really bad,'' Griffin said. "But it didn't feel like an ACL or anything like that. So [trainer] Larry [Hess] and them came on the field and I told them, 'Just get me to the sideline and I'm coming back in the next play.' I think the guys were proud of me for going back out there and fighting, and they told me they'd fight with me any day.''
Moss said the Redskins never wavered, even after seeing Griffin injured and limping off the field. Cousins came on, left, and came on again, all the while keeping Washington's chances to win alive.
"When [Griffin] went down, I told him in the huddle, on that last drive, once we got in the red zone, 'Hey, we're going to overtime. So just put that in your head.' That mindset has to be there, that we're going to take it to overtime. And Kirk came in and handled himself well.
"But I told the guys on the sideline, I said, 'You mean to tell me [Griffin] came back in there and threw two dimes hobbled?' That's just the kind of guy we've got, and I'm just praying for him and hoping he's all right.''
With three winnable games left on their schedule -- at Cleveland, at Philadelphia, Dallas at home -- the Redskins had plenty at stake in terms of their playoff chances against Baltimore. They likely need a healthy Griffin to get there, but post-game X-rays on his knee were negative, and the team doctors sounded optimistic after examining him, he said.
"They told me that they felt like my ligaments feel good; it's just a matter of what the MRI says,'' Griffin said. "They told me my ACL looked good, so I was feeling positive vibes from them. Just the fact we won the game makes everyone feel a lot better. I'll still be able to run and do those things if it's just a really bad bruise, and then if it's anything else, like I told coach, I'll fight through it and I'll be playing next week.''
But let's not slight Cousins, the former Michigan State star who turned in a superb effort in a pressure-packed situation. Washington just became the first team since the 1970 merger to have two different rookie quarterbacks lead fourth-quarter comeback wins in the same season.
I considered Cousins a luxury fourth-round pick by Washington in April, a luxury the draft-pick-strapped Redskins couldn't afford. But Shanahan's insurance policy just paid off in spectacular fashion, and paid a dividend that might be impossible to overvalue.
"It's a big game for us coming back into our stadium after winning three [division] games,'' said Shanahan, who logged his Washington-best seventh win of the season on Sunday. "We knew if we didn't get the win today, obviously those other three didn't mean a whole lot.''
But the Redskins' winning streak grew to four, and now Washington is above .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2008. The Redskins are relevant again, and Sunday produced the signature win of this renaissance season in Washington. It wasn't all about Griffin, but that's where the story starts.
"I told him I'm proud of you, and let's try to make the playoffs now, let's go make the playoffs,'' Cousins said, when asked what he said to Griffin after the game. "I asked him how he's feeling, and he said he just doesn't know until some more time passes.''
The Redskins have to be feeling like something special is unfolding in 2012. Especially if Griffin can heal quickly and return in time for next week's game against Cleveland, a winner of three in a row for the first time since 2009. Washington had impact rookies galore against the Ravens, but it was Griffin's arrival this year, and Griffin's example on Sunday, that made this comeback possible.
"We knew the kind of guy he was, period,'' Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said of RGIII. "To see him go out there on one leg and still be out there trying to throw the football, we knew that was the kind of guy he was anyways. So to see him go out there and actually do it, it just affirms who he is as a person, and it's the reason he has a [captain's] C on his chest.''