LANDOVER, Md. – Long after the game had ended and the players left the field there remained one last man standing. A giant circle of humanity surrounded Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III late Monday night. Cameramen. Photographers. TV reporters. They walked as he walked, forming some strange round pod of people crawling across the FedEx Field grass.
Then Griffin raised his arms, still clutching the game ball from another improbable victory – this one a 17-16 win over the New York Giants – and looking for all the world like a great prizefighter or a prince. And as he entered the tunnel, the only man who can unite Washington heard the fans calling his name …
"RG3! RG3! RG3!"
It is hard to remember that he is just 22, that he has played but 12 professional football games and that this season was pronounced dead in this very stadium just four weeks ago. Nothing seems too much for the man who has come to save the Redskins. He keeps coming up one more pass, one more first down, one more play that makes everyone wonder just how fantastic he can be.
Monday was not a great statistical game for RG3. He completed only 13 passes and threw for 163 yards. He wasn't as accurate as usual. The long passes deep down field fell out of reach of his receivers rather than into their hands. What mattered on Monday night, though, was the quality of the passes that connected. It was not a beautiful win but a grinding kind of game in which the 6-6 Redskins and their young anointed quarterback didn't so much as win as they endured.
"You have to find a way to win," coach Mike Shanahan said.
The winning score came on an epic 86-yard drive that Griffin described as, "just go score."
That makes Monday's victory another step in the massive growth of RG3. For it didn't matter that he set the NFL record for most rushing yards for a rookie quarterback (714), passing Cam Newton's 706 of last season. Nor did it seem significant that his passer rating against NFC East teams is 135.3. Statistics are meaningless, the narrative that plays out each week. What mattered on Monday night was that he found a way to win when the Redskins were outplayed. And that, after all, is the greatest skill a quarterback can bring.
Later he laughed as he walked through the corridors of the stadium, his jersey stained from the green grass and white yard lines. Washington's first touchdown came on a fumble that he subtly but clearly appeared to direct to receiver Joshua Morgan, who ran into the end zone.
"It was a pitch to Josh," he said. "I knew he was going to be there so I'm going to stay with that story."
He smiled again.
"God's on our side," he said.
Though he is a religious man, Griffin meant it less as an expression of faith but more as a tongue-in-cheek explanation for all the craziness that keeps happening.
For it was on a Sunday afternoon in the same interview room in which Shanahan stood Monday that he seemed to declare the season over. Washington had lost a close game to the Carolina Panthers and fell to 3-6. The Redskins looked done in the NFC East. Shanahan talked about looking at players for the future. It was not a signal that he believed in the playoffs. How could anyone?
But something changed. Griffin got even better. Teams tried to take away the option Washington ran earlier in the year, so he stood in the pocket and threw. And the receivers who had deceived him in the past suddenly held onto his passes. And Washington beat Philadelphia, then Dallas and now the 7-5 division-leading Giants. Just one game back with four games left, even a division championship isn't out of the question for Washington.
"I think it's the mindset of the team," Griffin said. "Each individual guy has to go out and dominate his position … we know our backs are against the wall and even though we won [Monday night] our backs are still against the wall. That's the attitude we have to have."
It's something they seem to grasp. A few minutes after Shanahan gave his postgame speech, nose tackle Barry Cofield stood before the team, and quoted legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
"You can't let praise or criticism get to you, it's a weakness to be caught up in either one," he told the players, reading from his iPhone on which he had found the quote earlier in the day.
"I like it when Cofield talks to the team," tight end Logan Paulsen said as he prepared to leave the locker room. "Everyone gets quiet and everyone wants to hear."
Suddenly they are inspired in a way Redskins teams haven't been inspired in years. Too often December has brought teams here that have stumbled into the winter listless and hopeless. On Monday there was excitement. By game's end the cautious Washington fans were jumping in aisles celebrating a shot at the postseason that appeared impossible just weeks before.
And they chanted for RG3 because there is no doubt he is the one who has brought the Redskins here, the player who makes a difference, the one who gives them reason to believe.
"He's a unique person and a unique athlete," Paulsen said. "We got what we wanted with him."
More significantly, the Redskins got something they haven't had in a long, long time.
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