- John Keim, ESPN Staff Writer
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Robert Griffin III didn’t miss a game because of his knee injury, so it’s not like Peyton Manning returning a year ago. However, Griffin is making a comeback from a bad injury. That makes Monday night a momentous occasion, for him and the fans. And, yes, Griffin sort of likes the spotlight.
Here’s how Griffin performed in five so-called big games last year. I defined big games by firsts -- NFL debut, home opener, NFC East, prime-time appearances, etc. As Mike Shanahan will tell you, they’re all big. But some gather a little more of the spotlight. So here goes:
NFL debut. The Redskins unveiled their new zone-read option offense that fit Griffin, and everyone else, apparently, to a T. Griffin completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns against a defense that looked lost at times. He also ran nine times for 42 yards in a 40-32 win at New Orleans. A sizzling debut that only added to the hope (and hype) surrounding him.
Home opener. The Redskins struggled in this game and trailed 24-10 at halftime. Griffin had subpar first-half numbers: 5-for-10 passing for 36 yards; three carries for 23 yards. But he played well in the second half as the Redskins started using more triple-option looks, forcing the Bengals out of their Cover 2. Griffin ended up with good numbers: 21-for-34, 221 yards and a touchdown passing; 12 carries, 85 yards and a touchdown rushing. He nearly led a comeback from 14 points down late in the game. A good game with excellent moments, but the Bengals made him pay by hitting him a season-high (or worst) 25 times.
NFC East debut. This also was his first trip to New York, which is sort of a big deal. (“If you can make it there, blah, blah, blah”). Griffin nearly led what at the time would have been considered an upset. He did so with one of the most memorable fourth-and-10 conversion plays you’ll ever see in which he extended the play for around eight seconds. It sustained a drive that ended in a go-ahead touchdown. On that play, Griffin wisely read solo coverage on Santana Moss in the slot with the safety deep, but focused elsewhere and changed his read. Smart move. For the game, Griffin completed 20 of 28 passes for 258 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He ran nine times for 89 yards. It was an excellent introduction to the NFC East and New York. Or, more accurate, the Meadowlands, which is near New York City but actually in New Jersey.
Thanksgiving Day. Griffin had one of the more memorable first halves in franchise history, a bonus for Redskins fans given the opponent: Dallas. The Redskins took a 28-3 lead into the locker room as Griffin completed 11 of 14 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns, all in the second quarter. He did not have an explosive second half, but he did enough to allow the Redskins to hang on for a 38-31 win. He finished 19-of-27 for 304 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He ran six times for 29 yards. Afterward, Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said they stopped the Redskins’ “college stuff.”
Playoffs. A real mixed game, which can be broken down to: Before Knee Buckle and After Knee Buckle. For the game, Griffin completed 10 of 19 passes for 84 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He ran five times for 21 yards, including a limping 9-yard run in the fourth. He obviously was banged up entering the game and wearing a knee brace, but his knee gave out on a second-quarter rollout (and incomplete pass to Pierre Garcon). Before his knee buckled, Griffin had completed 5 of 8 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. After that point he was 5-of-11 for 20 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Oh, and he suffered a worse knee injury that completely changed his offseason, led to a documentary and daily questions about his health.
Robert Griffin III didn’t miss a game because of his knee injury, so it’s not like Peyton Manning returning a year ago. However, Griffin is making a comeback from a bad injury.