- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Griffin, nonplussed, offers this answer:
"This year. I mean, it doesn't matter. Our season's not over. We're not out of the playoff hunt. If we win this game Monday, we control our own destiny. So it's every year, until we don't win it."
No pretense, no bluster, just the same, matter-of-fact tone he uses earlier in the interview when he honestly offers up John Elway, Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham among his influences and says Ray Lewis is the player whose autograph he would most like to get. Griffin doesn't suffer mundane convention or consensus protocol. He doesn't seek the sound bite. He gets a question, he rolls it over in his brain and offers his honest answer. Why wouldn't every player believe he could win this season's Super Bowl until his team is mathematically eliminated?
And so here stands Griffin, getting ready to play the first-place, defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the first "Monday Night Football" appearance of his career, with an understanding of the stakes. If the Redskins win the game -- and make no mistake, these Redskins fully believe they can beat these Giants -- they are one game out of first place and right in the thick of the wild-card race at 6-6. They would not, technically, be in control of their own destiny, as he claims, because they would still need teams in front of them to lose even if the Redskins won out. But they wouldn't need a ton of help, and the concept that a 10-6 record is likely to get them in is more than enough fuel for a December stretch run.
Griffin's most essential achievement in his decorated rookie season is to have made this possibility realistic. No Redskins team with Rex Grossman or Jason Campbell or the 2010 version of Donovan McNabb as its quarterback would have been a convincing playoff contender at 5-6 in Week 13. But this one, with Griffin taking the snaps, has people talking. Has people playing around with the Playoff Machine to see what has to happen for it all to come true. Redskins fans see the teams in front of them in that wild-card race and know well that their team beat the Saints, Vikings and Buccaneers head-to-head. They know the Seahawks can't win on the road. Heck, they know the Giants' remaining schedule doesn't look easy, and their team holds all kinds of tiebreakers, and the facts of the case become very simple: If the Redskins win this big Monday night game, they are in the mix.
The Redskins approach Giants games with a high level of confidence. They beat the Giants twice, rather soundly, in 2011, and they believe they had them beaten in Week 7 before they decided not to cover Victor Cruz on that 77-yard touchdown throw in the final two minutes. They do not fear the Giants, and they wouldn't have even if Griffin weren't their quarterback this season. They believe they have coverage schemes and pressure packages that can rattle Eli Manning, and they've spent the week watching film of themselves having great success against him. None of that means they'll win, but they have no doubt whatsoever that they can.
What Griffin has done is to build on that -- to fortify that confidence for the broader stage and the bigger dreams. If the Redskins can beat the Giants, as they already know they can, they can start to think about being a playoff team. And if you're a playoff team -- doesn't matter which one, as those Giants showed last season -- then you have a right to think about the Super Bowl. Why keep it a down-the-road fantasy when it's still a potential present reality? Griffin, who gives the Redskins reason to believe they might have the better quarterback on any given day they play, is speaking the absolute truth of his team's situation and his own. The fact that he's the one saying it means you don't have to look far to figure out why the Redskins, their fans and even some of their opponents might be believing it.
Griffin has made the Redskins legitimate, instantly. And whether they win Monday or lose, whether they make a real run at this year's playoffs or fall short, that's a heck of a rookie accomplishment.