Robert Griffin III looked slow.
His passes looked slow, his rollouts looked slow, even his jogs back to the huddle looked slow. The normally lightning-fast Griffin looked slow making decisions and slow pulling the trigger.
Whenever he tried to sprint, he did a hop-and-jog step to get going, like a sales manager playing pickup hoops at the Y. Had Griffin been wearing his famous Superman socks, their capes would've been hanging limp at his ankles.
In the waning minutes of the third quarter, the visiting Philadelphia Eagles led Griffin's Washington Redskins 33-7. What started as a celebration of the return of the most electrifying player in football became a prime-time TV meltdown.
The ESPN broadcast crew showed pointed close-ups of head coach Mike Shanahan and head doctor James Andrews while the palpably upset crowd grumbled, seemingly, about them approving Griffin's premature return to the field—again.
It seemed as though the Redskins' 2013 season was already over.
One quarter later, the Redskins were scrambling to recover a live onside kick that would've put them a play away from victory.
There are a lot of things the Redskins and their fans can take away from this game, but "we can't win with RGIII right now" isn't one of them.
Slow Out of the Gate
Speed is Griffin's calling card. Per the Baylor University athletics site, Griffin was a college All-American in track and still holds the Midwest Region record for the 400-meter hurdles. Yet, he couldn't have started any slower. It looked like Griffin was doing everything underwater.
On his third pass attempt, Griffin locked on to receiver Santana Moss and forced a brutal interception into triple coverage:
The next three Redskins drives ended in punts, while Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles ran wild. Griffin and the Redskins took a shocking 26-7 deficit into halftime, their only points coming from a DeAngelo Hall fumble return.
Would Mike Shanahan work his offensive wizardry at halftime, conjuring up wicked adjustments? Would running back Alfred Morris step his game up take pressure off the passing game? Would Griffin come out of the break recharged, refocused and ready to rock?
On the fourth snap of the third quarter, Griffin threw a poor out route to Pierre Garcon. Needing to lead Garcon to the sideline with a fastball, Griffin got no zip on a pass that came in behind Garcon, giving Eagles cornerback Cary Williams plenty of time to jump the route:
Two plays later, Eagles tailback LeSean McCoy burst through the Redskins defense for a 34-yard touchdown, driving the final nail into the Redskins' coffin.
What Went Wrong?
It's tempting to chalk Griffin's miserable game up to "rust." We know human beings don't corrode or oxidize, though, so what does that really mean?
Is Griffin's injury still holding him back? His body was empty of the explosion and burst that normally oozes from his pores. Is he still not recovered from the inactivity and intense rehab that comes with reconstruction of an athlete's knee?
Or is it a mental problem? Griffin showed none of the poise or swagger football fans associate with his game. He looked tentative and gun-shy in the first half, wincing before, during and after every contact. Could his knee injury have robbed him of the trust and confidence he has in his supreme talent?
Monday Night Football commentator Jon Gruden noted Griffin falling away from pressure and throwing off his back foot during the second quarter. Griffin missed Garcon on two open shots down the left side of the field on that same mid-quarter drive.
One of those misses, though, didn't look like a timid Griffin sabotaging his accuracy with nervous mechanical breakdowns. Instead, it looked like a miscommunication between Griffin and Garcon.
Maybe that's the "rust"? Could it be that after an offseason of very limited practice, Griffin simply doesn't have the timing and rapport with his receivers that he needs?
The answer is not one of these definitions of "rust"; it's likely a combination of all of them.
Fortunately for the Redskins, it wouldn't take Griffin long to shake it off.
The Other Side of the Field
In all of this RGIII talk, let's not forget there was another team on the field.
The Eagles defense played a fantastic game, especially in the first half. Less than a year ago, this was the most ridiculed unit in football, with an offensive line coach serving as defensive coordinator and, per Pro Football Reference, a fourth-worst points-allowed average of 27.8 per game.
Switching a defense's base alignment usually results in worse performance in the first year, as top starters are switched into unfamiliar roles, while rank-and-file defenders have to be jettisoned for rookies or street free agents.
Instead, the Eagles' aggressive new 3-4 defense, coached by Billy Davis, gave the Redskins offensive line fits.
Griffin was sacked three times, as Eagles rushers repeatedly burst through the line unblocked. Griffin frequently scrambled for his life or threw it away and was even flagged for intentional grounding.
Griffin took huge hits before, during and after his releases of the ball. It's hard to blame him for acting gun-shy; any quarterback would be tentative after taking that many free shots.
As it turns out, 33-7 wasn't just game over; it was also rock bottom. Griffin and the Redskins hit it and bounced back.
With the game over and the pressure off, the Eagles pass rush turned down the heat. The secondary sat back in soft zones. The Redskins offensive line got on their toes instead of their heels, and suddenly Griffin had time.
With protection for him and open swaths of grass for his receivers, Griffin finally got into a rhythm.
Going heavy with shotgun, no-huddle looks, Griffin started completing quick, short passes and letting Moss and Garcon shred the Eagles after the catch. According to the NFL.com play-by-play, after the second interception, Griffin went 24-of-35 (68.6 percent) for 267 yards (an average 7.63 yards per attempt), two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Including a touchdown run from Morris with just 11 seconds left in the third quarter, the Redskins offense rolled up 20 unanswered points in the last 15 minutes of football.
It didn't matter this week, but it will for the other 15.
The Rest of the Season
The failed comeback can't erase the three dismal quarters of football Griffin and the Redskins offense played.
The way Griffin picked apart the Eagles defense once he had time proves he's still "RGIII," though—especially since they couldn't "flip the switch" back on once Griffin got his legs underneath him.
Going forward, the Redskins have to be concerned about giving Griffin time and helping him get rid of the ball quickly. That's on the offensive line, and on offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The Redskins also have to be concerned with the defensive back seven, which was cut into ribbons by McCoy's cutbacks and DeSean Jackson's route running.
The one person they don't have to worry about is the one who matters most: Griffin, who was again thrown into the fire—and this time came out stronger.
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