- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
- 0 Shares
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- During the New York Giants' two most recent Super Bowl runs and many of their greatest wins in between, a devastating pass rush has carried the defense. It was the difference-makers that haunted Aaron Rodgers and twice flicked aside Tom Brady. So it has been a little jarring this week to hear that when it comes to rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, the same Giants defensive linemen confess that he actually gets in their heads a bit. Not the other way around.
This is new. This is strange.
Justin Tuck was the first to volunteer that early this week when he looked ahead to Monday's rematch against the Washington Redskins and said of RG3, "Until I exit stage right, it seems like he's going to be a fixture in my dreams and nightmares."
Mathias Kiwanuka, Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Canty have been similarly effusive about Griffin as this week has gone on. Then Tuck, speaking again Thursday, added that as he and Osi Umenyiora were watching film of the Giants' 27-23 escape against Washington on Oct. 21, he turned to Umenyiora and asked, "Did he really do that?" after Griffin backpedaled away from the rush on a first-quarter play near the goal line faster than the Giants were coming at him and smartly threw the ball away.
"If I tried that," said Tuck, "I'd probably fall on my ear."
Doesn't this break some unwritten rule? Whatever happened to defensive linemen growling that quarterbacks are pretty-boy preeners who should play games in skirts? Remember nose tackle Tony Siragusa's famous retort when the Giants' Michael Strahan joked before Super Bowl XXXV that Siragusa ate so constantly he left chicken bones on the field, even during games? "Chicken bones? Those are quarterback bones," Siragusa sniffed, as if he'd been insulted.
The most remarkable thing about RG3 is not that he is playing well -- he was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and the Heisman Trophy winner, after all. The shock is how he has made even surly defensive linemen sound alarmingly similar to fans a scant 11 games into his NFL career.
Normally, rookies (and especially rookie quarterbacks) get the wait-and-see approach from their NFL peers. Not so with Griffin. Already, he looks like one of those mind-expanding players the league has never seen before: a quarterback who can fly like Deion Sanders and has the arm strength to throw 65 yards downfield and the smarts to complete passes at the sort of high-percentage clip that Joe Montana used to make routine. A man who can slice up defenses throwing from the pocket and blow up that old claim that you can't make the option running attack a staple in the NFL?
This is different, all right.
"I'm not going to say he's Quarterback 4.0," Canty said with a smile Thursday, "but he's a tremendous football player, and he's a tremendous phenomenon. It's been a long time since the league has seen this kind of speed at the quarterback position. I mean, you'd have to go back to, you know, early Michael Vick days, when he was with Atlanta."
So are the raves RG3 is generating because, like Vick at the start, he still feels new? Or because Griffin really is unique?
"It's probably a little bit of both," Canty said, nodding. "I take nothing away from the young man. He's got a 104 passer rating, so, I mean, he's ballin', you know? He's ballin'. He executes their game plan and their scheme very well. He's got that team playing with confidence. Everybody in that locker room seems to believe in him, so he's getting it done."
Anything else strike you?
"I've got to say his speed," Canty said. "You see it on tape, but that doesn't do it justice. He's much faster, much faster, much faster. He's much faster."
(Yes, Canty literally repeated "much faster" four times, as if, like Tuck, he has dreams and nightmares about RG3, too.)
The Giants' Pierre-Paul has heard he's a freakish athletic talent from the moment he entered the NFL. Yet, even Pierre-Paul admitted Thursday that he was involved in one of the more amazing plays Griffin made against the Giants in their first game, as Griffin led the Redskins on a game-tying, 77-yard scoring drive in the final minutes. Only Eli Manning's 77-yard bomb to Victor Cruz saved the Giants from defeat.
Pierre-Paul had just blown by his blocker and seemed to have Griffin cornered for a sack in the left flat on a fourth-and-10 play, only to see ... well, why not let Pierre-Paul tell it?
"I thought I had him, he put the brakes on ... and then he was gone," Pierre-Paul said, remembering how Griffin rifled a 19-yard completion to keep the Redskins alive. "He's ..."
Aw, not you, too?
"... a great quarterback," Pierre-Paul concluded. "What can I say?"
At least Giants coach Tom Coughlin turned a little truculent Thursday after paying homage at least three times to how difficult the Redskins offense is to prepare for since RG3 arrived. A related question about how far back Coughlin would go to study Redskins coach Mike Shanahan's tendencies finally pushed Coughlin over the edge.
"Nineteen ninety-six," Coughlin barked sarcastically.
That's more like it.
Griffin's presence alone already makes Giants-Redskins feel like the NFC East's best rivalry. The head coaches and quarterbacks involved are all better. Unlike the Cowboys and Eagles -- who always seemed to overpromise and under-deliver -- RG3 already has a growing portfolio of promises kept in his brief career.
His best one so far? After Shanahan made the regrettable mistake of saying he'd use the rest of the season to "evaluate" players after Washington fell to 3-6 a few weeks ago, Griffin stood up in front of the team and, as the Washington Post reported this week, gave a speech that basically said hell no, the season wasn't over.
Knowing five of the Redskins past seven games were against NFC East teams, Griffin promised to "dominate" and challenged his team to do the same. Now look: Washington has rung up 69 points its past two games -- both wins -- and Griffin was a combined 33-of-42 passing with eight touchdowns. His QB rating in Washington's 31-6 rout of the Eagles was a perfect 158.3. And all told, Griffin has only four interceptions this year.
All of which is just the long way of saying Tuck is right.
Even for a Giants defense that can plot and scheme and bring a game-changing pass rush as well as anybody, Griffin is redefining what a nightmarish quarterback is.
RG3 ran a reverse on the Giants. He's in their heads, not the other way around.