Carrying the weight of expectations was nothing for Andrew Luck and RGIII. Trying to carry struggling teammates was a different matter entirely in a pair of Week 3 losses for the rookies.
Week 3 is best described as a learning experience for the NFL's rookie quarterbacks. All four first-year signal callers in action on Sunday lost. Ups and downs come with the job description - the unwritten part - for players making the jump from college to the NFL, and playing quarterback is the steepest transition of any gig in football. (Except for replacement referees, apparently.)
Apologies to Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill, two of the four rookies in action on Sunday, but we are here to discuss the top two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, the pair of wunderkinds sent to save destitute billionaires from ruining their franchises. Never have so few carried so many expectations as Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, at least not in the NFL world.
(Photo via Dale Zanine, US PRESSWIRE)
Both RGIII and Andrew Luck did themselves no disservice on the stat sheet. Luck followed up an impressive 533-yard performance in his Lucas Oil Stadium debut last week by topping 300 yards this week against the Jaguars. RGIII made his regular season debut at FedEx Field, in front of Washington-area fans just as hungry for winning football as their Indianapolis counterparts. Griffin did not disappoint, but his teammates and the fill-in officiating left a little to be desired.
Luck finished the game 22-for-46 for 313 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. For the second week in a row, Luck also showed the crowd his underrated athletic ability, a knack for scrambling that helps keep him out of trouble, rushing four times for 50 yards.
Take a look at Luck's first touchdown of the game, a beauty to fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton in the first quarter. He has a nice pocket to work in, and helps himself by making one his trademark quick release throws. It has the umph and aim to hit Hilton, between a pair of defenders, in stride at about the 15-yard line. This is the kind of throw that became de rigueur for Colts fans with their last quarterback.
Griffin finished his game against the Bengals 21-for-34 with 221 passing yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. It was a shorter passing game without Pierre Garcon and an offensive line that allowed him to get sacked six times. More on that in a minute. On the ground is where RGIII did the heavy lifting, leading the Redskins with 85 yards on 12 carries. He also scored a touchdown.
24-10 Bengals at half. Its bleak here at Fedex. Offense still in first gear. #regroup— HogsHaven.com (@HogsHaven) September 23, 2012
RGIII really didn't have a choice but to run the ball, to save his own skin from the woeful protection his team gave him. Coming out of this game without an injury is a small win for Washington's quarterback.
Verdict: Luck. The Colts' quarterback narrowly edges RGIII out here.
Luck got the win here last week for his late-game heroics, a short drive with 31 seconds left that set up a game-winning field goal for the Colts. This week, both quarterbacks were driving their team late, scratching and clawing their way toward the end zone and a chance to win.
Right after the Bengals took a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, RGIII marched his team 89 yards down the field, completing 10-of-11 passes on the 12-play drive, and finishing it off with a two-yard rushing touchdown to make it a one-possession game.
They had one more chance inside the two-minute mark in the second half, as RGIII moved his team inside Bengals territory before a sack, penalties and a screwy situation with the refs shut down the drive. But even in defeat, there was hope, as SB Nation's Hogs Haven notes:
Still, as you watched the game unfold, you had to feel like "hey, we still have a shot, RG3 can get this offense down the field." When was the last time you truly felt this way when watching the Skins play?
Luck was on pace for an eerie repeat of last week's finale, with a 48-yard drive that ended in a field goal to give the Colts a one-point lead with less than a minute to play. Jacksonville improbably added the game-winning score when Cecil Shorts broke off an 80-yard touchdown. Luck had one more chance with 45 seconds to go, but that ended with two incomplete passes after a 36-yard strike to Hilton put them just outside the red zone.
Instead of leading a comeback drive, Luck did something else that speaks volumes about his ability to lead. SB Nation's Colts blog Stampede Blue explains:
... he took the blame for it. "I think the finger needs to be pointed at me," Luck said following the game.
Maybe that's because he's a rookie, but he doesn't have to say "the finger needs to be pointed at me." Luck, as a rookie, is being a leader. There's something special about this kid.
And he's all this team has.
Verdict: RGIII. What he did in the fourth quarter, with an offensive line in-name-only protecting him, is the stuff legends are made of in the NFL. Both Luck and Griffin are shouldering the weight of expectations that would leave most quarterbacks in existential crisis, and both are handling it with aplomb.
Luck and RGIII should get bonus points for the cast of characters around them. Injuries are starting to pile up for the Redskins. They lost Trent Williams in this game, which had RGIII running for his life on too many occasions. On the other side of the ball, the Redskins defense is languishing without Brian Orakpo and a secondary that fools nobody.
More than a few fans point to the NFL's onerous fees for violating the non-cap salary cap in 2010 for limiting their ability to fix the safety position, among others. I'm dubious, especially since they were able to raid Dan Synder's penny jar for an $11.5 million donation to Josh Morgan.
The Colts defense is criminally bad. Coughing up an 80-yard, game-winning touchdown on a single play with a minute left tells you all you need to know about that unit. Maurice Jones-Drew ran wild over the Colts defense, like he always does.
Total collapse in the second half. Greg Manusky leaves a lot to be desired as a defensive coordinator. Andrew Luck is awesome though.— Brad Wells (BBS) (@StampedeBlue) September 23, 2012
At least the Redskins gave RGIII a running game to work with, a given with Mike Shanahan at coach. Indianapolis has no running game to speak of, beyond their screen passes. Every rookie quarterback should have a ground game to help.
Verdict: Draw. Both players got let down by the team around them, and probably will again as the season continues. The thing to remember here is that neither team would have quarterback prodigies if the roster was at all well-rounded.
The Winner Is ...
RGIII gets the nod this week in a meaningless horserace of lofty expectations. Without him, the Redskins would have lost in a blowout. The same can be said about Andrew Luck, but Griffin's last two drives in the fourth quarter, particularly the one that ended with his third rushing touchdown of the season, put him over the top.