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LANDOVER, Md. -- Tom Coughlin might win another Super Bowl before he retires, and Eli Manning might win another two before he does the same. Coughlin is 66, and Manning turns 32 next month. The coach and quarterback of the New York Giants know they can't keep hosting ring ceremonies forever.
They have twice triumphed over the Patriots of Belichick and Brady in the finals, and twice triumphed over the Packers of Rodgers and Favre in the playoffs. Over the years Coughlin and Manning also survived the one quarterback-coach partnership in Philly that posed the most credible threat to their divisional reign -- Donovan McNabb is out of football, and Andy Reid is about to be out of a job.
But sooner or later, the Hall of Fame pairing of Coughlin and Manning was bound to run into a figure too young, too accurate, too fast, too resilient, too good to be repelled like the rest of 'em. No, Robert Lee Griffin III won't be outlasted by the two-time champs. He'll be the one doing the outlasting.
|Robert Griffin III, at just 22 years old, has shaken things up in the NFC East.|
"He's going to be a problem for a lot of years to come," Justin Tuck said Monday night after the Washington Redskins opened the division wide by beating the Giants by a 17-16 count.
Back in October, Tuck said he was "pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East." Him. The 22-year-old quarterback of the Redskins. RG3-strikes and you're out.
Manning needed a dramatic 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz to beat him up in Jersey, and this time around, in his home ballpark, Griffin wasn't about to let him do it again.
"We can't give Eli back the ball," Redskins tackle Trent Williams told his teammates in the final minutes.
The Giants had just committed their ninth penalty of the game, a third-and-10 holding call on Will Beatty that wiped out Manning's 11-yard completion to Martellus Bennett and ultimately forced the visitors to punt. Griffin ran around right end on first down and toward the sideline, where Michael Boley was waiting to deliver a vicious shot to his opponent's upper body.
Boley unloaded at the end of the 8-yard gain, a hit that nearly cut the quarterback in half. "Coach called it the 'Gumby' hit," Griffin said of Mike Shanahan, "because my legs bent like Gumby."
As he struggled to his feet, Griffin said, "I could feel the typewriters writing." He knows a sportswriter or two who thinks he runs too much, and absorbs too many violent blows for his own good. But Griffin cared plenty more about his ability to stop on a dime as he raced toward his bench, his exposed shoulders and head be damned.
The rookie did what most rookies wouldn't in that situation -- he stayed inbounds. "That's the difference between winning and losing a game," Shanahan said.
Washington kept the chains moving and the clock bleeding. Alfred Morris, another advanced rookie, handled the tough stuff between the tackles. Griffin nailed the one final-possession pass he needed to have, the 17-yarder to Pierre Garcon that landed the Redskins in Giants' territory.
Soon enough, Griffin was taking a knee and the home crowd was chanting his nickname, chanting for RG3 all the way into the parking lots.
The Giants had controlled the clock in the first half, holding the ball for more than 20 minutes and, of equal significance, keeping Griffin off the field. But in the end Griffin was the one who had reduced Manning, master of the fourth-quarter comeback, to a helpless spectator.
"I don't know what happened in the second half," Coughlin said.
RG3 happened. At the Giants' eight-yard line early in the fourth, Griffin rolled to his right, forced linebacker Keith Rivers to play the run, and then calmly threw what would be the decisive touchdown pass to Garcon.
"It's tough to say," Manning said when asked to compare Griffin to other rookie quarterbacks he's seen over the years. "Obviously he's making some plays and he's a tremendous athlete and he did a good job tonight, converting on some third downs and hitting on some key throws."
Tuck was among the Giants more effusive in their praise, allowing that he remains angry with the football gods who delivered such a devastating dual-threat player into his backyard. The pass rusher spoke of perfect defensive schemes rendered useless by Griffin's blinding speed to the edge.
"If he stays healthy," Tuck said, "he's going to be a havoc on defenses for a long time."
His coach has seen enough in his day to agree. Asked if Griffin represented one of the toughest players he's ever had to game plan against, Coughlin said, "There's no doubt. You saw how quickly he gets to the outside when he pulls the ball. That kind of speed is going to be devastating any time."
Griffin finished with 72 rushing yards (on a mere five carries) and 714 for the season, breaking Cam Newton's NFL record for rookie quarterbacks. RG3 completed 13 of 21 passes for 163 yards, relatively modest numbers that nonetheless left him with a passer rating of 135.3 against NFC East teams, the best intra-divisional rating in the league.
"The sky's the limit for him," said Giants GM Jerry Reese. "He's a handful, there's no question about it. ... I think everyone in this locker room is competitive and likes challenges, and he definitely presents a challenge. We'll look forward to trying to figure it out as we go through the years here."
Only there isn't going to be any figuring out of Griffin. The one big mistake he made in his Monday night debut, a first-quarter fumble that bounced fortuitously into the hands of Joshua Morgan, resulted in a Morgan touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
"It was totally by design," Griffin said.
He had every right to be in a joking mood. The Giants had won their previous 26 road games when leading at the half, and Griffin terminated their streak and any hope they had of coasting to the division crown.
RG3 didn't just run about at video-game speed, leaving Giants fans and coaches and executives shouting the same desperate plea, Get him Get him. He made the kind of smart and tough choices that rookies aren't supposed to make.
So yeah, it might be a long decade of change for the Giants and those who care about them. If one player can expedite (by a year or two) the down-the-road retirements of Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, Canton-bound icons both, RG3 sure looks like the man to do it.