Robert Griffin III was leading his team from their own 2-yard line with less than two minutes remaining and no timeouts. With each yard he gained, the legend was building. That was the story that was being written as he stood in shotgun formation on the Cincinnati 19-yard line with 27 seconds left, trailing by a touchdown.
But a sack was followed by a false start, which was followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. With that, the storyline changed. Instead of leading his team to an outstanding comeback victory, Griffin settled for being the guy who turned in a great performance in a losing effort. He continued to take a pounding in Sunday's 38-31 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals in his home debut, but still threw for 221 yards and ran for 85 more.
"He made some big plays at the end that a lot of people can't make," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "To see his competitiveness and getting knocked down and getting back up, that's what you want to see. That's what the great ones do."
That's what Griffin had to do time and time again during the game. Not because of offensive line breakdowns or because he held the ball too long. Rather, because of the running game. Most of the time, the Bengals' defensive ends ignored the ball carrier and headed directly for Griffin. So if he handed the ball off or even pitched it on the option, he was often getting leveled. Washington chose to adjust by lining up Brandon Banks behind Griffin in their pistol formation. Sometimes, Banks would serve as a decoy, but he did have 29 yards on three carries.
"They were trying to run at me, get quarterback hits on me," Griffin said. "A lot of teams think if you hit the quarterback enough eventually he'll stop coming after you. I just want to let everyone know that's never going to happen."
Certainly, that didn't happen on Sunday. With the Redskins trailing by two touchdowns, Griffin led them to tie it at 24, throwing a 3-yard touchdown to wide receiver Santana Moss for one score. The Bengals led by 14 points in the fourth quarter, but Griffin directed his team on a 90-yard drive, which climaxed with his 2-yard touchdown run. Then he almost led a 98-yard drive for a touchdown, only to come up short.
"All you can do is get up from it," Griffin said about the hits.