Robert Griffin III electrified FedEx Field on Sunday with his 76-yard run down the sideline for a victory-clinching touchdown against the Vikings.
What might prove more important in the long term, though, were the multiple occasions when the Redskins’ rookie – seven days removed from suffering the first concussion of his NFL career – chose self-preservation over the type of high-risk play that knocked him out of the game the previous week.
“As I’ve told people, you stay aggressive, but you just try to be smart,” Griffin said after the Redskins’ 38-26 victory. “I felt like I got out of bounds a couple of times when I should have. I threw the ball away one time and got penalty because a guy hit me. You try to play smart but stay aggressive.”
It’s not that Griffin didn’t get hit; he did. Anytime a quarterback carries the ball 13 times for a team-record 138 yards, he’s going to get tackled. Griffin simply did a better job of deciding when to turn up the field with the ball, when to get down and when to duck out of bounds.
Four plays in particular stand out a good examples of this:
--In the first quarter, Griffin bootlegged to the left, surveyed the field, realized all of his receivers were covered, tucked the ball and sprinted toward the sideline. With the Vikings’ four-time pro bowl defensive end Jared Allen in pursuit and two defensive backs also closing in, Griffin stepped out of bounds after a seven-yard gain. The capacity crowd showered Griffin with a sarcastic cheer – not for the run but for his wise decision to get out of bounds.
--In the second quarter, Griffin scrambled out of the pocket and judiciously chose to throw the ball away. After releasing the ball, Griffin was shoved by Vikings’ linebacker Erin Henderson. Although Griffin later acknowledged that he embellished the hit, the official whistled Henderson for roughing the passer. Griffin gave an exaggerated head nod as he walked back to the huddle.
--Also in the second quarter, Griffin carried the ball up the middle on a designed run. He shook Henderson at the line of scrimmage, but before safety Harrison Smith could lay a hard hit on him, Griffin slid, thus avoiding any contact. “You have to live with that,” he later explained. “And not worry about the eight or nine yards you could have gotten [by] taking the hit.”
--In the third quarter, Griffin dropped back to pass, pump faked and then took off toward the right sideline. After turning the corner, three Vikings closed in on him. But before any of the defenders could get close enough to hit him, Griffin stepped out of bounds. Griffin perhaps could have gained a few more yards by lowering his shoulder into safety Jamarca Sanford, but he didn’t.
“I think common sense prevailed,” Coach Mike Shanahan said. “I think he’ll learn every game, maybe, when to slide, when to throw the ball away, when to go out of bounds a little bit earlier. I saw that today in a number of situations. As time goes on, he’ll keep on getting better and better at keeping people away from [himself].”
After one practice last week, Griffin pulled together his teammates and told them he did not intend to put himself in harm’s way again.
“I told the team I wasn’t going to leave them hanging,” Griffin said. “So I tried to make sure I did that.”
Guard Kory Lichtensteiger said the other players are grateful that the team’s most important player has pledged – and now shown – that he’s serious about being more careful.
“He’s learned a lot from that hit” against the Falcons, Lichtensteiger said. “He doesn’t want to spend another half in the locker room getting treated. It’s something he had to learn. It’s too bad he had to learn it the hard way, but we’re thankful he’s making the right decisions.”