RG3 leads Redskins back to relevance

The “RG3” chant still echoed throughout FedEx Field several minutes after the Washington Redskins’ 17-16 victory over the New York Giants late Monday night.

Robert Griffin III did have some phenomenal runs as he set the NFL record for rushing yards in a season by a rookie quarterback. He also had some timely completions, including when he found receiver Pierre Garcon for an 8-yard fourth-quarter touchdown and then again on a 17-yard reception for a first down before the 2-minute warning to all but seal Washington’s first win in its last 10 “Monday Night Football” home games.

The target of the fan’s affection, however, may not have even been the deciding factor as the Redskins (6-6) inched into postseason contention for the first time in the Mike Shanahan era.

“We made plays when it counted,” said lineman Barry Cofield, part of a Redskins defense that held the Giants to three second-half points and five first downs. “They got some yards on us and we bent. We didn’t break. We got up in the fourth quarter and said, ‘This is it. We have to get it done.’ Guys are starting to step up.”

Washington’s third consecutive win puts it a game behind the Giants (7-5) and even with the Dallas Cowboys in the division. This game’s contributions by the defense and Griffin were accompanied by 124-yard effort by running back Alfred Morris — which included a 6-yard run for a first down with a minute left to allow the ’Skins to kill the clock — and penalties.

Among the nine penalties for 73 yards called against the Giants was a drive-killing holding call on lineman Will Beatty, whose flag on third down negated a first-down pass as Giants quarterback Eli Manning found tight end Martellus Bennett for what would have been an 11-yard play on the potential game-winning drive. The Giants punted two plays later and never got the ball back.

“We talk finish, finish, finish, finish, finish,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “I thought we could do that.”

Coughlin had reason to feel confident after his team entered the half with a lead, even if it was only 13-10. The Giants dominated time of possession as they had the ball 20 minutes, 32 seconds in the first half.

The Giants also entered with 26 consecutive wins when leading at halftime. That last loss, coincidentally, came against another rookie quarterback. Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans scored 24 points in fourth quarter to win, 24-21, on Nov. 26, 2006.

“We weren’t able to get much going,” Manning said. “We had two drives in the fourth quarter that didn’t work. We had to drive the ball and get points in those circumstances and we were not able to do it.”

Manning had more passing yards (280 to Griffin’s 163), although there was no way he was going to match his counterpart on the ground. Griffin had 72 yards rushing — and luck on his side with the night’s most spectacular scramble.

Griffin was 12 yards into a run in the first quarter when he was stripped of the ball, which bounded over to receiver Joshua Morgan. He ran the final 13 yards for the touchdown, which was upheld after a review.

“We didn’t run it in practice because we wanted to save it for the game,” Griffin joked. “I just knew he was going to be ready for it.”

Griffin’s charisma — not to mention his athleticism and what the Redskins mortgaged to draft him — created buzz. The fact he’s churning along with other facets of the team has made the Redskins a contender, even if the road the rest of the way is by no means easy.

The Ravens travel here Sunday before Washington closes the season at Cleveland, at Philadelphia and at home against Dallas.

For now, there is hope. It’s something that has been lacking around here for a franchise that hasn’t made it to the playoffs since 2007 or advanced past the Divisional Round since the team won its last Super Bowl in the 1991 season.

“There’s a lot of excitement around this team and I think everybody feels it,” Griffin said.