The country’s football addicts now call him RG3, an identification that might have been cribbed from a Star Wars script. But you have the Minnesota Vikings’ testimony today that this man is never going to be mistaken for a robot.
Before he finishes turning the National Football League into his personal sandbox, Robert Griffin the Third of the Washington Redskins, college football’s Heisman Trophy winner of a year ago, may stand with the best who ever lit up the television screens of this most popular and volatile game in America.
You didn’t get any early clues Sunday afternoon at Landover, Md., where the Vikings thrust themselves into a quick lead and seemed fully prepared to smother the Redskins with field goals. But eventually it was Griffin’s track star’s speed, his arm and the pure exhilaration with which he plays football that squelched the Vikings 38-26 and ended their three-game winning streak.
For the Vikings there was chagrin over the might-have-beens. Griffin’s heroics could have been avoided if they hadn’t blown their early opportunities so spectacularly. Three times in the first quarter they were within red zone range of touchdowns that could have torn the game open before they turned the stage over to Griffin. Quarterback Christian Ponder, whose own day was pretty much a mess, acknowledged as much. So did Coach Leslie Frazier.
“We had a chance to take the crowd out of the game,” he said. “But we didn’t.”
The evidence: three short first- quarter field goals by the Vikings’ Blair Walsh, from pop-gun range of 20, 27 and again 27 yards. That said almost as much for the rest of the afternoon as RG3’s heroics.
For Ponder, on the other hand, it was a day of mea culpas. He overthrew at least two certain touchdowns for which his ultimately respectable figures — 35 completions in 52 throws and 327 yards — offered cold consolation. He also fumbled on the Viking 6 yard line in the second quarter. The Redskins recovered and Griffin hit Darrel Young with a touchdown pass six seconds before halftime.
Sixth game as a pro
So in the end it was Griffin, playing his sixth game of professional football, electrifying his teammates and the crowd. His very presence in the game was seriously in doubt in midweek because of what was described as a mild concussion he absorbed in a game a week ago. But he said later he’d dealt with that and was ready and primed.
It wasn’t as though Washington ambushed the Vikings, a team that had lifted itself to the top of the NFL North division and came into the game fully armed with two of pro football’s most glittering assets in Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin. Neither disappointed, Peterson on the ground and Harbin in his “he’s everywhere” role as the Vikings’ prime receiver. Add a rising quarterback of their own and a half dozen recognized stars capable of carrying the Vikings into the playoff race.
And then they met RG3. They’re still there very prominent in the playoff picture with a record of 4-2. But when you go on the road in the NFL you’re unregistered aliens. There is nothing quite as intimidating in pro sports today as the locomotive din generated by the home team rallying in the second half; and especially when it’s stirred by a talent as extraordinary as Robert Griffin III.
The Vikings were hardly overwhelmed. Their sickness was field goalitis, inability to finish their drives in the end zone. In the end Walsh kicked four field goals of 20, 27, 27 and 37 yards. He was doing it chronically in the first quarter when the Vikings hogged the ball, gaining 148 yards to Washington’s 7 at one point. Amazingly, Washington turned that around virtually 180 degrees and piled up more than 200 yards in the crunch time while the Vikings were virtually shut out on offense.
Nothing, though, was quite as stunning as Griffin’s game-clinching run in the fourth quarter. The Vikings led 9-0 after one quarter, controlled much of the play but fell behind at the half 17-9 on a Kai Forbath field goal and Griffin’s six-yard touchdown pass to Darrel Young. They had dominated possession for much of the game and were looking to get back into it in the second half, whereupon Griffin scored a third quarter touchdown from six yards out to stretch the Washington lead to 24-9.
But after Madieu Williams, the former Viking, intercepted one of Ponder’s throws and scored from 24 yards out to stretch the Redskin lead to 31-12, Ponder came back with a nine- yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins midway through the fourth quarter and hit Kyle Rudolph with a two-point conversion to cut the Washington lead to 31-20.
Once more, Harvin and Peterson and brought the Vikings back, and it was 31-26 with three minutes remaining. The crowd was clearly unnerved now. Nothing much the Redskins have done in the last few years have inspired a whole lot of adoration from their fans. They had been searching for a plausible quarterback for years. The latest coach, Mike Shanahan, had never come close to approaching his success years ago in Denver. But he kept weeding out trouble-makers and milking the market for has-been quarterbacks until last April. Drafting after Indianapolis chose Andrew Luck, the Redskins picked Griffin.
The Vikings were painfully aware of that when they trailed only 31-26 and had 2 1/2 minutes remaining. If they made a stop there and forced a Redskin punt, there was still time to mount a final bid to win their fifth game in six. But now the Redskins had possession and needed to scheme a way to run the clock. They were facing third down and six for a first down that would come close to clinching the victory. Another thing: This was a team groaning under an eight-game home-losing streak stretching back to the 2011 season.
RG3 not groaning
One man who wasn’t groaning was RG3. They needed at least one more first down to pretty much clinch it. RG3was unlikely to put the ball in the air and risk an interception. So he saw an opening. Before the Viking secondary could recover he was sprinting for the sideline and the goal line 76 yards away.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarterback run that fast,” Leslie Frazier said after the game. His team, which was favored, had better personnel than the Redskins. Peterson ran for 79 yards and Christian Ponder threw for 352 yards and Percy Harvin was everywhere with his 133 yards on 11 receptions. But at no time did the Vikings establish any real control.
Which means the Vikings approach the seventh week of the NFL’s 16- game season at four wins and two losses, now in second place behind Chicago’s 4-1 record. The Bears had a bye this week and Green Bay defeated previously undefeated Houston of the AFC and now stand at 3- 3. Detroit defeated Buffalo to improve to 2 and 3.
So what new melodrama lies on the immediate horizons? Next Sunday at the Metrodome the Vikings welcome Arizona and the best pass receiver in the NFL, Minnesota’s own Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona comes with a record of four wins and two losses but it still has trouble identifying a starting quarterback.
Back in Washington, there are no doubts about who is the quarterback, this week or anytime in the next, say, 10 or 15 years.