LANDOVER, Md. – Robert Griffin III was the last player announced during pregame ceremonies. He emerged from the tunnel, through the large inflatable Washington Redskins football helmet and onto the field, raising both arms to pump up a crowd eager for his first head-to-head matchup with Andrew Luck.
Like everything else about the rookie, Griffin was doing something new – but looking as if he’d done it before.
“I’ve never had my own introduction ever, high school or college, so that was extremely fun with the smoke and everything,” Griffin said. “It was like you’re in a movie.”
In many ways, Saturday’s game was promoted like a blockbuster opening, the curtain raiser for a budding quarterback rivalry between the Nos. 1 and 2 picks in the NFL Draft. The co-stars responded with a display of A-list poise and promise as Griffin’s Redskins defeated Luck’s Indianapolis Colts, 30-17.
Top pick Luck completed 14 of 23 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown to fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton. Heisman Trophy winner Griffin went 11-for-17 for 74 yards and a scoring throw to veteran Santana Moss.
Both quarterbacks played one series into the third quarter in the teams’ dress rehearsal for the regular season, with the Redskins ahead 14-7 when the subs took over.
“I haven’t had any overall bad performances for myself. … I thought he did a good job out there as well,” Griffin said. “They blew this up as a head-to-head, and we’ll see what happens next.”
Barring an incredible pair of Super Bowl runs from two teams rebuilding from bad seasons, the first Luck-RGIII encounter that really counts won’t come until the 2014 regular season.
Still, the comparisons will continue.
“It’s not something you can just push away or put aside,” Griffin said. “It’s everywhere. It’s going to be there for our entire careers.”
The game was marketed to the hilt, offering an early glimpse at two players given the burden of reviving proud franchises. The Colts are coming off a 2-14 season as they embark on the post-Peyton Manning era, while the Redskins went 5-11 last year for a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the NFC East.
Even so, it was merely a preseason game. The atmosphere in the stadium was far from electric – attendance was announced as 60,047 – and the offenses were still running basic schemes, saving the more creative stuff for their regular-season openers in two weeks.
And while Griffin gave himself good marks for his performance, Luck was more downcast despite putting up decent numbers.
“I’m not happy,” Luck said. “But I realize a preseason game is a chance to learn.”
Luck’s touchdown was an impressive moment. He stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush, then put a deep ball down the left side into the arms of Hilton, a third-round pick, for a 31-yard touchdown that wrapped up an 80-yard drive.
Griffin responded on the next drive, which also went 80 yards. He took a high-and-wide shotgun snap and drifted to the right to find Moss for a 4-yard score.
Through three preseason games, Luck is 40-for-64 for 514 yards with three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 90.2 rating. Griffin is 20-for-31 for 193 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 103.2 rating – not to mention an approving coach.
“He keeps on getting better and better,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said, “more comfortable with the system, with what we’re trying to do.”
Meanwhile, someone forgot to tell Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris that the game wasn’t all about him. The sixth-round pick, getting the start because of a rash of injuries, ran for 107 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Evan Royster (knee) and Roy Helu Jr. (Achilles) sat out, and Tim Hightower was limited to five carries in his first game since tearing the ACL in his left knee last season.