Robert Griffin III was worth the price
Redskins QB Robert Griffin III breaks through a tackle by Saints' Will Smith during Washington's 40-32 win over New Orleans. (Getty Images/AFP)
The Washington Redskins paid a king’s ransom in order to move up to draft Robert Griffin III.
They have zero regrets after Game 1 of the RGIII era.
Griffin looked like a 30-year-old veteran on Sunday even though he is actually the first quarterback born in the 1990s to start an NFL game.
The Heisman Trophy winner out of Baylor showed remarkable poise, toying with the Saints early as the Redskins built up a stunning 20-7 lead on the way to a 40-32 win in New Orleans.
Griffin totaled 320 yards in the air, completing 73% of his passes for a pair of touchdowns and added 42 more on the ground on 10 carries, easily outdueling a stunningly ineffective Drew Brees.
Head coach Mike Shanahan got Griffin comfortable in the first quarter, letting him complete a host of short passes, many on screens, and the result was a 6-for-6 inaugural drive, leading to a 37-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff, who nailed four on the day.
Griffin was just getting warmed up.
After Brees found his form to get the Saints into the end zone, Griffin’s lone play of his second drive was an 88-yard hookup with Pierre Garcon for a touchdown.
The success of the play largely was a result of Griffin’s ability to completely fool the Saints defenders, something he did all day, particularly on play actions.
He showed incredible poise for a rookie, evading pressure and buying himself time to find receivers downfield.
It took until the second quarter for Griffin to misfire on a pass, but only a couple of plays later, he found Aldrick Robinson in the end zone for a 5-yard score.
One game does not a career make, but the first rookie to start under centre for Washington since Norm Snead all the way back in 1961 was superb throughout the afternoon, serving notice that the three first- and one second-round selections the ’Skins dealt to St. Louis to get him might actually end up being a bargain price.
Players such as Joe Theismann, Mark Rypien, Jay Schroeder and Jason Campbell had to wait their turn, but the day the Redskins agreed to ante up, the whole world knew he would become the guy immediately.
The hope for the Redskins is that Griffin validates Washington’s decision to pay through the nose for him, the way Eli Manning has rewarded the New York Giants brass for paying a similar price to move up to get him.
It didn’t take long for the young signal-caller to show that the massive hype was warranted.
While his offensive line deserves credit for protecting him, Griffin was able to create all kinds of time for himself to make plays and deftly escaped when faced with pressure in the pocket.
He showcased his strong arm, smart decision-making and Michael Vick-esque wheels.
With the great Brees having a day to forget at the other end of the field, Griffin was able to do enough to pull off the massive upset.
Brees, merely the most accurate passer in the league the past three seasons at around 70%, could not even complete 50% of his attempts on Sunday (24/52).
His QB rating was about half that of Griffin’s and his normally impeccable move-the-chains short game was lacking for the first time in ages.
The Saints had never faced a 13-point deficit at home all last season, but found themselves in that hole in the first half of Week 1, shocking the Superdome crowd.
Though Brees threw a touchdown in a 50th straight game, setting a new record he had shared with Johnny Unitas, he also led the Saints to five three-and-outs in the contest.
That only happened 23 times — total — last season.
Conversely, the Redskins eclipsed the 30-point mark for the first time since the 2010 campaign.
Despite the brilliance of Griffin and the struggles of Brees, the Saints still could have turned things around, but a phantom pass interference call by the replacement officials on the opening drive of the second half allowed the Redskins to go from an incomplete pass on fourth and inches, to four cracks at pay-dirt, which they capitalized on to stretch the lead to 27-14.
Brees was better in the final two quarters, but after bringing his team to within eight, threw a crucial interception.
That basically clinched the game for Washington and Griffin, who grew up not far from the Dome.
After a single outing, he already is the biggest-name athlete in his new city, Washington, a town littered with sporting superstars such as Alexander Ovechkin, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and John Wall.
Washington fans haven’t had a lot to get excited about over the past two decades.
They do now.
Recently reinstated Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma did not play, but Will Smith did … The 88-yard TD completion to Garcon was tied for the second-longest scoring pass by a quarterback making his NFL debut … Fellow rookie Alfred Morris had two touchdowns and 96 yards rushing … Brees played for the first time as a Saint in New Orleans without Sean Payton as his head coach. Payton is suspended for the season … Only Cam Newton (422 yards), Otto Graham (346 in 1950) and Ed Rubbert (334 in 1987) have thrown for more yards in their debut.