In Redskins’ Victory, Robert Griffin III Posts Remarkable Debut
NEW ORLEANS – It couldn’t have gone any better than this.
Robert Griffin III capped off one of the more spectacular debuts ever by a rookie quarterback Sunday by leading the Washington Redskins to a 40-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the season opener at the Superdome.
It seemed, at the outset, like an improbable task – beating a team that has emerged as a perennial championship contender behind a record-setting quarterback in a difficult stadium. And while the Redskins had to work for the win, never moving more than two possessions ahead of the Saints on the scoreboard, they looked much more impressive as Griffin took control.
He completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns, including an 88-yard catch-and-run by Pierre Garçon late in the first quarter and a five-yard pass to Aldrick Robinson early in the second.
After completing his first eight passes, Griffin also became the first rookie to finish the first half with a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating, and only three players – Cam Newton, Otto Graham and Ed Rubbert – threw for more yards in their debuts than he did.
“Robert did an unbelievable job,” head coach Mike Shanahan said. “For him to play the way he did in the first game in the National Football League, the poise he displayed and some of the throws that he made, [was impressive].”
The Redskins tried to ease Griffin into the game plan, having him throw screen passes on five of his first eight plays. That set up the long touchdown pass to Garçon on the next drive – a 16-yard throw over the middle to the receiver, who then outran New Orleans cornerback Patrick Robinson 72 yards to the end zone.
“It was a lot of fun out there,” Griffin said. “I think everyone was comfortable with the game plan that we had coming in. We did a lot of things that we hadn’t shown in preseason. I think everybody executed it to a T. … I thought everybody did a great job.”
Garçon, the Redskins’ prized free agent acquisition, finished with four catches for 109 yards and the touchdown – all in the first 12 minutes.
He left the game after the touchdown with soreness in his right foot, but x-rays showed no break and he said afterward he expected to be fine for the coming week.
“It did hurt a little bit [to leave the game], but I’m glad the guys stepped up,” Garçon said. “We had a lot of guys that really didn’t play that much step up and play big for us and get key first downs, and that’s really what we need all year.”
The offense worked so efficiently during the first half that the Redskins scored on each of their first four drives, but they still entered halftime with only a 20-14 lead after New Orleans blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown.
Quarterback Drew Brees, who completed 24 of 52 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns, kept the Saints in the game late. The Redskins seemingly had broken away twice in the fourth quarter, but Brees kept the Saints within a possession with 2:25 to play when he found Darren Sproles on a two-yard touchdown pass.
Rookie Alfred Morris started at running back and had 96 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, and Robinson filled in for Garçon and had four catches for 52 yards and a touchdown.
Kicker Billy Cundiff, signed the final week of the preseason, made all four of his field goal tries in his first game.
Washington held the Saints to 32 rushing yards, and its 464 total yards on offense were more than it had in any game last season. The 40 points were also the most the Redskins had scored since 2005.
That, of course, pleased Shanahan, and it was also mildly enjoyable for Griffin, who carried the ball from Garçon’s touchdown with him to his post-game press conference.
“The guys in that locker room – I’m still a rookie to them,” Griffin said. “After this game, they told me I’m not a rookie anymore.”