NEW ORLEANS -- I caught Mike Shanahan as he was on his way back to the locker room after his postgame news conference Sunday, and I asked him about the Washington Redskins' first offensive possession. That was the one on which rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III was 6-for-6 for 35 yards without ever throwing a pass beyond the line of scrimmage. There were 11 snaps on that drive (not counting the one on Billy Cundiff's field goal that capped it), and 10 of them were shotgun snaps. Griffin never took a dropback. He got the ball and either ran with it, handed it off or fired it to the first receiver in his progression. Bam, bam, bam, as Emeril Lagasse might have said if he was watching from the kitchen of his restaurant on nearby Tchoupitoulas Street.
So I asked Shanahan if this had been by design -- if he'd set up that first drive with those quick passes to help his rookie get into the rhythm of the game without facing pressure from the Saints' defense or pressure to go through progressions while he got his feet under him. Because I figured, if it had been, it was a pretty smart idea.
"No, he has options on those plays," Shanahan said. "He decided to run it that way."
So how about that, right? Here I was, ready to give the veteran coach credit for a wise game plan that had helped his rookie quarterback ease into his first NFL game, and it turns out it was the rookie quarterback who'd made that decision on his own.
"It's great for any quarterback to get a couple of easy passes at the beginning of the game and get into a rhythm," Griffin said. "It looked like that's what they were giving us early, so it made sense to take it."
Sounds simple, but it accomplished so much. It caught the Saints off-guard. It ate up 7:29 of first-quarter clock time while Drew Brees cooled his heels on the sideline. It resulted in the first three points of the game. It probably set up Pierre Garcon to turn a 16-yard slant into an 88-yard touchdown catch on the first and only play of the Redskins' next offensive possession. It got one of the greatest quarterback debuts in NFL history off to a pinpoint start and set the tone for a game the Redskins would, somewhat shockingly, dominate.
And while Griffin didn't design the game plan, he went into the game with both a clear-eyed understanding of how much power he wielded within its framework and the confidence (as well as the talent) to make the decisions he felt were the best ones at the time. We're looking at a high level of intelligence here -- an ability to process information quickly and act on it with precision. This is Eli Manning's strength. It is Michael Vick's weakness. It is an ability that not all quarterbacks ever attain, and very few possess innately. Griffin showed on a number of occasions, in the toughest building in the league in which to play his position, that he has it.
"He was pretty good, wasn't he?" a giddy Shanahan asked with a smile on his way back to the locker room.
He was indeed. And while we all know he won't always be as good as he was Sunday, he showed enough to make you think he can be all of that and maybe even better. He obviously knows what he's doing, and it's not hard to see why an NFL team would fall as head-over-heels in love with him as the Redskins have.