Washington Redskins  

 

Robert Griffin III's Redskins debut exceeds expectations

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said Robert Griffin III would play between 12 and 20 snaps. On the 14th snap of his first NFL preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, Griffin connected with Pierre Garcon for a 20-yard touchdown. The run-and-catch capped an 80-yard drive. It was enough to call it a night for the Redskins' new franchise quarterback -- and to get a huge exhale from a desperate Washington fan base.

Let's rewind his debut.

Four hours and some-odd minutes before Robert Griffin III threw his first-ever NFL touchdown pass: He cut a solitary figure in Ralph Wilson Stadium, in headphones and shorts, walking from one end of the field to the other. Griffin stopped once, to shake hands with the night's officials.

Two hours before Robert Griffin III threw his first-ever NFL touchdown pass: Griffin warmed up on the Ralph Wilson Stadium field, ignoring the mostly sly glances his opponents kept sending his way. Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson openly admitted to checking out Griffin. First, because "he's a great player," he said, but secondly, because, "I wanted to see his socks." Johnson was bummed that on the occasion of Griffin's first live action, the one-time Baylor star hadn't pulled a pair of hosiery from his now-famous collection. "He's still a great player," Johnson said.

Roughly 50 minutes before Robert Griffin III threw his first-ever NFL touchdown pass: He came skipping out of the tunnel in his shiny new Redskins uniform and somehow wrapped a huge grin around his bright-yellow mouth guard to the fans screeching his name.

The Redskins had nearly 25,000 fans at practice last Saturday. A decent contingent made the trek to upstate New York and sported his jersey Thursday night. More evidence that RG3-mania has set in? On Wednesday, when the Redskins handed out a hotel rooming sheet to personnel, it listed every name from the head coach on down, save for Griffin's. For security reasons.

Twenty minutes before Robert Griffin III threw his first-ever NFL touchdown pass: The Redskins went three-and-out, Griffin went straight to the bench with Washington's three other quarterbacks, slung an arm over Kyle Shanahan's shoulder and watched as his offensive coordinator drew on his clipboard. After a second three-play series, Griffin again huddled with Shanahan and the three other quarterbacks. After the Redskins' third series, Rex Grossman, Kirk Cousins and Jonathan Compton huddled without Griffin.

Six game clock minutes before Robert Griffin III threw his first-ever NFL touchdown pass: He handed off the ball to running back Evan Royster. Again.

There was no read option, there were no quarterback keepers, there was none of the crazy stuff Griffin has been doing inside the red zone at training camp that has flummoxed his own defense. The Redskins kept the playbook simple, four of Griffin's first six snaps were handoffs and that was of course by design. Shanahan wasn't emptying his playbook. With "Seize the Day" and "Seize the Moment" handwritten on his shoes, Griffin himself said earlier in the week that he wouldn't be looking to run.

But even as he said he wouldn't run, as he said he wouldn't heave the ball or take many chances, Griffin still seemed disappointed he couldn't Thursday.

"I wanted to run the keeper," he told the Redskins Radio Network at halftime, after his night was done.

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Robert Griffin III gear.

Five minutes before Robert Griffin III threw his first-ever NFL touchdown pass: Griffin tried to tackle someone.

In the second drive, on Griffin's sixth overall snap and after his fourth handoff to Royster, the Redskins fumbled the ball and Griffin immediately gave chase to Bills safety George Wilson, who picked up the fumble and raced toward the end zone. Left tackle Trent Williams watched Griffin make a diving push to get Wilson out of bounds at the 2-yard line. Williams hauled up Griffin, wrapped him in a bear hug, and said, "Hold up now. You are NOT tackling anybody."

The play ultimately had been whistled dead back at the 21-yard line, but on this night, Shanahan disagreed with Williams and wouldn't fault Griffin. "He's a football player," the coach said afterwards. "If I've got a quarterback running the other way when there's a fumble, I've got the wrong quarterback."

Three minutes, 35 seconds before Robert Griffin III threw his first-ever touchdown pass: Tight end Niles Paul dropped a short pass up the middle.

Grumbles out of Redskins Park had been about Griffin's accuracy and decision making through camp so far. But on this night, he didn't force a throw, didn't throw to the wrong place. His two incompletions? The Niles drop and a third-down ball indeed caught by Pierre Garcon on the first drive, with the wide receiver thinking his feet were inbounds, the replacement referee saying otherwise. "I know I dragged my feet for a long time," Garcon said later. "The throw was perfect."

Three minutes, 30 seconds before Robert Griffin III threw his first-ever touchdown pass: Griffin connected with Garcon for a 20-yard gain, on a second-and-10 and after he went through a set of progressions. Garcon wasn't Griffin's first option, and Mike Shanahan later said he'd made all his reads just right. "He did everything we asked him to," the coach said.

The moment before Robert Griffin III threw his first-ever touchdown pass: It was a third-and-3 on the Buffalo 20.

Griffin lasered a screen pass left to Garcon and hopped up a little to see as Garcon scurried forward and around blocks and then sort-of somersaulted into the end zone. Griffin leaped up, arms raised. He bent to one knee, quickly pointed to the sky and then chest-bumped Garcon, who wouldn't leave him alone in the second half, talking in his ear, dispensing a stream of advice and refusing to let the rookie quarterback lose focus on a game he no longer needed to be in.

"It was fun," Griffin said.

All the natural, easy charm Griffin has shown so far was on display Thursday. He guilelessly said practice was a lot harder than the game ("the holes are a lot bigger") and he sweetly said of the transition from college, "The game hasn't changed, just the size of the people." He even said the touchdown "really set the tone for the year." He never showed nerves, or a sign of buckling under the absurd expectations. If anything, he espoused Shanahan's words Monday, when the coach said he didn't want expectations to be unrealistic.

And on Thursday night, Shanahan acknowledged that Griffin met all expectations, outsized or not. He completed four of six passes for 70 yards, he was cool and collected. "I thought he did an excellent job," the coach said. "He did an excellent job."

Follow Aditi Kinkhabwala on Twitter @AKinkhabwala

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