|Robert Griffin III outplays the Saints' $100 million man, record-setting Drew Brees. (AP)|
NEW ORLEANS -- There are a lot of ways to describe the first career start for Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, but leave it to an offensive lineman, one of the guys in front of him, to sum it up best.
"They said we traded away our franchise to get him," Redskins tackle Trent Williams said. "Now you know why."
We sure do.
Griffin was sensational in his debut here in leading the Redskins to a 40-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints, likely ruining a lot of survivor pools in the process. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 139.9, keeping the Saints off balance the entire day.
When the Redskins traded up to draft him second overall this year -- giving up two first-round picks and a second, as well as swapping picks in this year's draft -- it meant that they couldn't afford to miss.
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One game in, it looks like Dan Snyder might finally have his guy. This franchise seeming has been searching forever for a star passer. That's why the Redskins have made the playoffs four times in the past 20 years, and why the horrors of Rex Grossman, John Beck, aging Donovan McNabb, Heath Shuler and all the other bad quarterback play might finally be in the past.
"That guy is a gamer," Redskins receiver Aldrick Robinson. "The game counts and he turns it on."
Using an up-tempo spread system early to get some confidence, Griffin completed his first 11 passes, including an 88-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon. His mastery continued the entire day.
There were only two RG3-and-outs the entire day.
The Redskins did a great job of playing to his strengths, which are his feet and his ability to get the ball out on time and use his powerful arm. There was very little sitting in the pocket, which would seem to be something he has to do more down the road.
That's because Griffin took a lot of shots. He is a wild ride, but there is clear danger playing that way.
Sunday wasn't about that, though. That is something that will play out down the road. This was about a chance to show that he can be special, a coming-out party to announce he is the real deal, whatever way he did it.
RG3 is certainly easy enough to like. Forget about what he can do on the field. How many stars come to the podium a half-hour after the game is over and meet the media in full uniform, aside from helmet and cleats. Yes, the shoulder pads were still on.
He looked like a commercial up there, something you would see as a mock press conference. But there he was, tossing a football around as he spoke. Not just any football, either, but the one his teammates gave him to commemorate his first TD pass of his career, the one to Garcon.
The best thing about that throw to Garcon is how he reacted to a blitz. Let Griffin explain it.
"They blitzed on that play and I was going hot," he said. "I was looking for my hot guy. He got covered. So Pierre was the primary receiver on the outside. I had enough time, so I pulled it back and threw it to him. Pierre went across the middle and caught it high across the middle and did a good job of finishing it."
That is a veteran play. But it's clear that for now the Redskins will keep it simple for Griffin.
He ran 10 times for 42 yards to go with his aerial numbers, but he could have run even more. On one play, he had a clear field in front of him. Instead of turning on the speed and running for 10 yards or so, he kept his head up and threw to a crossing Santana Moss for a 27-yard gain.
"Everyone's in my head making sure I stay safe," Griffin said of not running as much.
You think? You are the franchise.
It's that threat of the run that makes him so effective. His ability to ball-fake on read-option plays, and get outside the pocket, makes the defense hold for a second. That opens up the quick slants and things like that against man coverage.
For at least one day, he made it all work. He was better than New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, the guy coming off a record-setting season for passing yards. You're not supposed to come into the Superdome and outplay Brees -- especially a rookie.
That's why the Redskins fans above the tunnel serenaded him as he walked off the field.
"RG3, RG3," they yelled.
He stopped to throw his skull cap into the crowd on his way into the locker room.
Advice for the person who got it: Keep it.
If his debut is an indicator, that thing could be worth a lot of money on eBay someday.