- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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LANDOVER, Md. -- On Nov. 15, 2010, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick played the game of his life and beat the Washington Redskins 59-28 on "Monday Night Football." That night, the Redskins didn't look as though they belonged on the same field as the Eagles, and the reason was Philadelphia's dynamic quarterback. He could do it all -- elude oncoming rushers, speed around the edge to pick up a first down with his legs, and of course, throw the ball a mile down the field into the hands of his speedy wide receivers.
It has been just a little bit more than two years since that night, and in Sunday's 31-6 loss, it was the Eagles who did not look as though they belonged on the same field as the Redskins. The main reason may well have been Washington's dynamic quarterback, Robert Griffin III. He completed 14 of 15 passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for 84 yards on 12 carries. He got away from the rush when he needed to, and he burned the Eagles deep at key points in the game.
"Except for that one incompletion," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan deadpanned, "I thought he did OK."
Griffin was unquestionably the best player on the field in this ugly game -- a bright spot amid the messiness you'd expect to find when a couple of 3-6 teams get together in Week 11. Sure, the Redskins' defense did some good things, picking off Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles twice in the first quarter and setting the tone early for their plans to deliver the Eagles their sixth consecutive loss. And yes, Alfred Morris ran for 76 tough yards of his own against an Eagles defensive front hell-bent on stopping him. But Griffin was the class of this game -- a beacon of competence with flashes of outright excellence.
"I'm tired of talking about Robert," said Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss, who caught Griffin's 61-yard touchdown heave that extended the lead to 24-6 in the third quarter. "Robert's not going to change. He's going to go out there and be special. He brings that special-ness. I don't even know if that's a word, but that's what he brings to our offense."
Griffin does appear to be the kind of player for whom it's worth trying to invent new words. And while Moss' effort might not be the pinnacle of vocabulary innovation, it's probably not the last time someone on Griffin's team will try. It was a big week all around for the Redskins' rookie, who was voted a team captain by his veteran teammates earlier in the week and enjoyed watching his alma mater beat top-ranked Kansas State on Saturday night.
"The Baylor Bears won [Saturday], in case you all didn't know that," a smiling Griffin said. "And Coach [Art] Briles, he always used to tell me there's a difference between playing fearless and playing stupid. If that had been an interception, that pass to Tana, it would have been stupid. Instead it was fearless. It's a fine line."
It's one Griffin walks with remarkable ease, week in and week out, in the way in which he carries himself both on and off the field. He is 22 years old and already the kind of franchise quarterback who brings to his team the most important things a franchise quarterback can bring. Stability. Confidence. The innate ability to instill and communicate that everything will be all right if his teammates and coaches will simply trust him. And those teammates and coaches have bought in. The Redskins at this point are a team that believes in its quarterback to make the play they need him to make at the appropriate time. And on Sunday, he once again justified that belief.
"I'm a 22-year-old kid to the rest of them, and for them to vote me their captain shows what they think of me as a leader," Griffin said. "That means a lot, and I'm extremely proud to be their captain."
The Redskins are 4-6 and remain a long shot to make the playoffs. The Eagles are 3-7, but the difference between the teams right now feels much more significant than a single game in the standings. After Sunday's game, in which the Eagles could do nothing right and the Redskins were able to cover their own mistakes with enough big plays to win, the difference feels like a gulf. The main reason for that is at quarterback, where the Redskins currently feel as though they're set for years to come, and the Eagles are dealing with questions.
Foles looked very much like a rookie in this game, going 21-of-46 for 204 yards and two interceptions. He missed a lot of throws, made a couple of questionable decisions and never seemed able to get into a rhythm. A lot of that has to do with the same kind of shaky, mistake-prone offensive line play that limited Vick in the season's first nine games, but Foles is a third-round pick who needs work. And since he is a third-round pick (as opposed to the No. 2 pick overall), there are many more questions about his ability to develop into a franchise quarterback than there are about Griffin's.
The Eagles' season is lost. Vick's concussion sounds serious enough to keep him out a while longer, and it seems a worthwhile idea to play Foles anyway and see what he can do. Perhaps he can play well enough in the final six games to help the Eagles answer some questions about what they have at their most important position as they head into an offseason packed with critical decisions. Perhaps he plays poorly enough that they decide they need to shop for their franchise quarterback in the 2013 draft.
These are the issues and questions with which the Eagles are dealing, just two years after Vick's signature game sold Andy Reid on the idea that he could deliver that elusive championship. The Redskins believe they have that most critical of questions answered with Griffin. And Sunday's game brought that key difference between these two teams into crystal-clear focus.
7hEric D. Williams