IRVING, Texas — With all due respect to Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, the buzz at Valley Ranch on Monday mostly involved RG3. Not that the Cowboys are looking past Sunday’s trip to the Emerald City, but it was impossible to ignore Robert Griffin III’s stunning debut in a road win over the New Orleans Saints.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo wasn’t set to address the media until Thursday, but he couldn’t help himself when I brought up Griffin’s performance. He was thoroughly impressed with how the Redskins continued to use their play-action game when Griffin lined up in shotgun formation. The former Baylor star’s remarkable performance confirmed what a lot of us had already suspected: the Redskins are finally relevant again. This organization that has wandered in the quarterback wilderness for the better part of two decades suddenly has one of the most dynamic players in the league.
And even though it was just one game, folks are having a tough time keeping any sense of perspective. And I’m not just talking about Redskins fans. NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci, a man who coached Hall of Famer Steve Young at the end of his career in San Francisco, sounded a tad bit impressed Sunday.
“This is the most athletic quarterback this league has ever seen,” said Mariucci of Griffin, who completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-32 win over the Saints.
Cowboys players weren’t quite as effusive in their praise, but Griffin definitely grabbed their attention. Cornerback Brandon Carr has a completely different perception of the Redskins because of their new quarterback.
“Just off what I’ve seen from the preseason and first game, it’s night and day from the previous Redskins,” said Carr. “They are catering to his strengths and they aren’t afraid to put the ball in his hands in big situations.”
Carr was particularly impressed by how Griffin delivered a dart to tight end Logan Paulsen to extend a late drive and rob Saints quarterback Drew Brees of precious time for a potential comeback.
Griffin isn’t the first rookie quarterback to put up impressive numbers (see Cam Newton), but seeing him perform at such a high level in a hostile environment makes you wonder if the Redskins should be considered a sleeper for a playoff spot. That seemed like a ridiculous thought before Griffin started shredding the Saints’ secondary Sunday. Now, long-suffering fans in Washington have something other than hope to hang their hats on. They wanted to believe in the Jason Campbell era, but that ended badly under the kooky tutelage of head coach Jim Zorn.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder has undermined his organization at every turn, but he may end up changing his legacy based on a bold decision to surrender a boatload of draft picks in order to move up and select Griffin No. 2 overall. He’s the type of player who could pump life into the Shanahan administration and perhaps remind folks of the coach’s happier times in Denver, where he had another mobile quarterback with a decent arm.
In a crowded Cowboys locker room Monday, starting defensive end Marcus Spears paused from talking about the Seahawks for a quick assessment of Griffin’s performance.
“Phenomenal,” he said. “Phenomenal.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Snyder have become close friends over the years. Jones can identify with how long the Redskins have been searching for an adequate quarterback based on what happened between Troy Aikman’s departure and the arrival of Romo.
“Well, I was very impressed,” Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan. “He certainly showed a lot of poise. They had him game-planned really well to do the kinds of things that he does good. His athletic ability, his speed, all of that is something that I don’t look forward to the Cowboys competing against for a lot of years.”
With upcoming games against the Rams and Bengals, the Redskins have a great opportunity to be 3-0 heading into Tampa Bay on Sept. 30. They don’t play their first division game until traveling to the Meadowlands in Week 7. If you think Griffin’s a big deal now, watch what happens if the Skins somehow jump out to a 4-2 start. It’s certainly not out of the question.
In Washington, fans have already been photographed doing something called “Griffining,” which requires them to sit on the ground with both arms pointed to the sky, like the quarterback was doing while Pierre Garcon was racing for an 88-yard touchdown.
Perhaps Griffin will fill the void in case Tebow continues to be nothing more than a sideshow with the Jets. But no matter what, he’s put the Redskins back on the NFL map.
And perhaps one of the league’s best rivalries will regain its luster.