LANDOVER, Md. -- It was bound to happen. The knockout hit, the big one, the one that would take out the Washington Redskins' most prized possession, that electric and eclectic jewel that is Robert Griffin III. It had to happen sometime, right? The man can't run around and play the quarterback position like some revolutionary, freezing defenders in the turf with his speed and moves and first-read throws, and not expect to take a monster hit at some point.
It happened Sunday, when he was knocked out of the game after suffering a right knee injury on a hit from Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
And when it happened: Time. Stood. Still.
Then a funny thing happened. The team Mike Shanahan has built continued on its merry way. Griffin was pivotal to getting the Redskins close to forcing overtime against Baltimore, but he didn't seal the deal. Another rookie, Kirk Cousins, did that. And then another, Richard Crawford, helped win it in overtime with a dazzling 64-yard punt return that set up the game-winning field goal.
Hours later, the team collectively exhaled when it was announced that Griffin had been diagnosed with a sprained right knee after undergoing an MRI -- no tears and no fractures were revealed.
The news was of the utmost importance to Washington, because Griffin is what makes his team special. He is why the Redskins were in the game in the first place, and he is why they were in position to win it like they did, 31-28 in overtime, to improve to 7-6 and remain in the thick of the playoff race with three weeks to play. Considering Washington's horrid defense, the Redskins would be going nowhere without a special player behind center.
But there's more to the Redskins than that. There's the wily head coach who called a brilliant play on a two-point conversion to essentially force overtime because he knew the Ravens, like everyone else watching the game, wouldn't expect a quarterback draw from a rookie who had played just once all season.
There's the array of rookies making contributions, from Griffin to marvelous running back Alfred Morris, who became the franchise's rookie record holder for carries, to Crawford to Cousins, who showed more poise in a pressure situation than anyone could have expected.
There's a general aura around the Redskins that hadn't been there in forever. The team expected to win Sunday, even when trailing by eight points with less than five minutes to play; even minutes later, when its star was lying prone on a table listening to plays being called in his headset while trainers poked and prodded his knee and his teammates soldiered on without him. There is confidence and even a developing swagger with this team that has won four consecutive games for the first time since 2008 and suddenly turned a season Shanahan thought might have been one simply to evaluate talent into one with serious playoff purpose.
Washington might make the playoffs. The Redskins might actually win the NFC East for the first time since -- wait for it -- 1999, when Norv Turner was the coach and Brad Johnson the quarterback. The Redskins, believe it or not, might actually be for real. Not next season. Now.
"I really wasn't waiting for this kind of game; I was waiting for this kind of season," said wide receiver Santana Moss, who has spent the past eight seasons of his 12-year career in Washington. "We [have] had guys and the talent. The talent has been here for years, but we didn't have a team. I think that's what [Shanahan] has been trying to do these last three years. This is his third year, and he's finally got a group of guys who he can say, 'I trust you guys to go out there and play the way you've been playing these last four weeks.'"
Some of that comes from Griffin. He is a natural leader, effervescent and magnetic and tough. He took the hit from Ngata late in the game, came off the field for one play with a knee injury, told Shanahan he was going back in and played four more snaps before wisely realizing his day was done. With his team on the 16-yard line with 49 seconds to play in regulation, Griffin threw the ball out of the end zone and was called for intentional grounding. He lay on the ground, his forehead in the turf, then limped off with the help of two members of the training staff.
Two plays later, Cousins found Pierre Garcon in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown. Griffin couldn't see the play, but he heard the crowd's reaction. Then, he heard Shanahan's call for the two-point conversion and thought: "Awesome."
"I loved it," he added.
At that point, it was as good as over. Baltimore was deflated and went three-and-out to open overtime. Crawford had his moment, and then second-year kicker Kai Forbath finished the game.
After the game, doctors examined Griffin's knee and took X-rays. In the locker room, Griffin sat with his jersey pants ripped to accommodate a black brace on his knee. He held onto the side of his locker to help pull himself out of the chair and gingerly pulled on sweatpants before slowly walking to the postgame news conference.
Griffin tore the ACL in his right knee as a sophomore at Baylor in 2009. This injury doesn't feel like that one, he said, and he didn't act like a player who was expecting to learn bad news upon further examination.
"As soon as I got hit, as I screamed -- like a man, of course -- I knew that it hurt really bad," Griffin said. "But it didn't feel like an ACL or anything like that."
As for why he came out of the game, Griffin said: "I knew I needed to get out at that point. I couldn't move. At some point, you have to do what's right for the team. If I would have played the rest of that game, I probably would have hurt myself even more, so you've just got to trust those guys and trust yourself when you know enough is enough. When I first came out, I didn't think enough was enough. But after being out there a few plays and realizing I really couldn't do too much, I had to get out."
Griffin had done enough. His suddenly surging team did the rest. And now, surprisingly, the Redskins look like a team that might be able to do even more.