Quarterbacks don't win or lose games on their own, but they often have more control over the outcome than anyone else on the field. That's why it was so encouraging for Washington Redskins fans to see Robert Griffin III lead his first game-winning two-minute drill Sunday in Tampa Bay, as the 'Skins edged the Buccaneers on a last-second field goal.
Griffin had already proved that he had the arm, the smarts and the play-making ability—especially in the red zone—to become a franchise quarterback and probably much more than that. Probably a superstar.
But in his fourth NFL start, he needed to lead his first successful two-minute drill in order to capture his second NFL victory.
He had opportunities on final gasps in Weeks 2 and 3, but the team imploded with costly penalties in both cases.
Down three in the final minutes in St. Louis, the No. 2 overall pick completed four of his five passes on the final drive to get Washington into field-goal range to tie the game. But a now-infamous unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Josh Morgan cost them dearly, and a 62-yard field goal wasn't close.
And down a touchdown against Cincinnati last week, Griffin completed his first three passes while picking up 29 yards with his feet on the team's final possession, but a sack and consecutive penalties forced them to enter Hail Mary mode.
This time, Griffin had to be fearing another failed final effort, right? I mean, those first two unsuccessful two-minute drills had to be in his head?
Probably not, because that's the kind of thing that special athletes get past.
You know what else wasn't in his head when he took the field down a point with 1:42 to on the clock at Raymond James Stadium? The voice of his offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. That's because, according to the Washington Post, Griffin's headset wasn't working:
All the while, Griffin's headset—the link for play calls between him and the coaching staff—was kaput. When there was time, he veered toward the sideline to get the next play. Otherwise, he called the play himself.
"Every week, we always practice me calling the plays [as if] the headset has gone out," Griffin said. "The funny thing is, the headset did go out on that drive. . . . So it was neat how that practice scenario played out in the game."
Yes, neat. You or I would have been going full McNabb in terms of our panic level if something like that were to happen in such a moment. But there was 22-year-old Robert Griffin III, poised as possible, despite only being able to huddle before the first play of the drive.
On first down from the 20-yard line, he'd be lucky enough to find his first read in the face of immense pressure. It was only a four-man rush, but the pocket collapsed quickly. He had no choice but to step back and deliver a fastball to Santana Moss, who had sprung open after crossing with Fred Davis.
That's a tight pass into traffic, but Griffin trusted his arm and made a definitive choice. The result? A 15-yard gain and a first down.
Here's what's super-impressive: It took Griffin just 13 seconds to call the next play—all on his own, remember—and get the offense into position for the next snap. Washington had only one timeout for this drive, yet only 22 seconds had ticked off the clock before RG3 took his second snap.
On that snap, the Bucs brought seven on a blitz, but Griffin didn't panic and found the receiver who was inevitably uncovered, Fred Davis.
"For some reason they left Fred all alone," Griffin said of the play, via the Washington Post, "and I hit the wide-open guy like I'm supposed to."
That would result in 20 more yards, moving the 'Skins into Tampa Bay territory. The Bucs had figured that they could have flustered the young quarterback with a safety blitz and by sending two linebackers on delay, but it backfired. Credit the line for holding up for at least a moment's time too.
Following that completion, the Fox cameras caught Griffin indicating to the sideline that he couldn't hear.
That play ended with 1:12 on the clock. Griffin had a play called and the next snap off with 59 seconds on the clock. There are many veterans who couldn't coordinate such things—especially with 20 yards of the field to cover—in only 13 seconds.
The third play of the drive wasn't ideal. Griffin checked down to Evan Royster for a four-yard gain. But again, he was facing pressure and didn't want to take a back-breaking sack or risk a holding penalty. Those were the kinds of things that killed previous two-minute drills for this team. It's an indication Griffin is learning to sometimes cut his losses.
That said, a throw-away might have been more prudent, because the 'Skins sacrificed 21 seconds in exchange for that short gain.
With that in mind, the next play was probably what separated the winners from the losers on Sunday. This doesn't happen, and it's third down and you're still out of field-goal range. But Griffin takes matters into his own hands the moment he doesn't have an open receiver and knows he can make the play with his legs.
Easy first-down run into field-goal range.
That, of course, was the moment in which he should have slid down inside the 30...
But instead, he sacrificed his body for two or three extra yards, getting hammered at the 26-yard line. This isn't what the team wants him to do, but it's hard to be too critical when he's picking up valuable yards.
When you consider that they'd take a five-yard false start penalty after Griffin's spike on the next play, those yards probably were appreciated.
Kicker Billy Cundiff had been 0-of-3 in the game to that point, so Washington wanted to get him as close as possible. That's where Griffin again came up big on the final play he had to run, picking up seven yards to turn a 48-yard attempt into a 41-yard attempt.
He was again calm against the blitz, finding Moss underneath for that final pickup.
Timeout. Successful field goal. Game over.
Excluding that spike, Griffin was 4-for-4 on the drive, adding a 15-yard run for good measure. His clock management was unbelievable, especially considering that he was disconnected from the coaching staff due to a technical snafu.
These are the types of moments that build legendary quarterbacks. Griffin has to take fewer hits, sure. But the guy continues to exceed expectations, and he continues to take steps toward elitism at a much quicker rate than most imagined.
He's turned it over just twice in four games, completing 69 percent of his passes (third in the league) while posting a passer rating of 103.2 (fourth in the league) and a yards per attempt average of 8.6 (third in the league). Indications are good that he'll learn to take fewer hits, and the trend began pointing in that direction Sunday.
Put it all together and throw in the fact that he's already proving to be strong in clutch situations, such as the one we just highlighted, and it's hard to argue that RG3 wouldn't have been worth a decade's worth of first-round picks.