Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

Week 14 NFL Wrap-up: Could RG3 be the GOAT?

Week 14 NFL Wrap-up: Could RG3 be the GOAT?

Photograph via Bleacher Report

Editor’s note: This fall, Sam Ennis and Nathan Schiller will cover the 2012 NFL season with a blog called “Vinatieri, Back to Kick It Off.” (If you don’t know why we’re calling it this, you obviously didn’t play excessive amounts of Madden ’98.) Each week, they’ll exchange thoughts on the previous week’s games, examine developing and ongoing league trends, bring in guest writers to irrationally breakdown their favorite teams, and unravel many more features. Imagine the format to be like a radio show, except written. (In other words, not like a radio show at all.) The blog will run every Tuesday at Construction.

SAM: Another week, another bizarre shakeup in the standings. The somehow-not-terrible Browns{{1}} demolish the Chiefs; the afterthought Panthers smoke the erstwhile Super Bowl “favorite” Falcons; and the “team that no one wants to see in the playoffs,” the Steelers, go down hard at home to the Chargers, a team that had gone two games without an offensive touchdown. Everyone assumed the Steelers would win by fifty given that Ben Roethlisberger had finally returned; instead, he played like a hesitant guy coming back too early from an injury that left him with shattered ribs.

As I turned away from the Steelers game in disgust, I watched the Redskins come back to take down the Ravens, winning four in a row for the first time in years. Between Alfred Morris, a six round rookie out of Florida Atlantic University, and Robert Griffin III, whom you probably haven’t heard about, the Skins have an incredible thing going. And even after RG3 went down with a grotesque-looking-but-not-actually-that-big-of-a-deal-it-turns-out-thank-god knee injury, dreamboat backup (and rookie) Kirk Cousins stepped in and engineered the game-winning drive. Naturally, I wondered what it must be like to watch the most exciting rookie quarterback in a decade (piss off, Cam Newton) take a team that most people associate with nothing more than a ridiculous payroll and awful top-down management and turn them into a legitimate playoff contender.

Well, my oft-mentioned girlfriend (and now fiancée!) Mary is, in fact, a Redskins fan. So let’s ask her: you’ve got the hottest team in the NFC, and, after years of disappointment, a young nucleus that should contend for years (assuming you find a few O-linemen and cornerbacks, and assuming that Orakpo’s tendons stop turning into fusilli). After years of the Skins being a Daniel Snyder plaything, WHAT’S IT LIKE?

MARY: Where to begin. As a Skins fan too young to experience the great teams of the ’90s, I have never been so simultaneously terrified and excited. Watching RG3 run headfirst down the middle of the field is taking years off my life. And we all know the defense is atrocious—I think I could play corner better than Cedric Griffin (PEDs notwithstanding). Against the Bengals, A.J. Green could have done the running man backwards down the sideline and he still would have beaten Josh Wilson by five yards (have fun with that guy for the next 10 years, Sam honey).

[pullquote_right]If Daniel Snyder decides he wants to get back into personnel decisions, the Redskins are screwed.[/pullquote_right]

But you know what? It feels great. I don’t have very high hopes for the playoffs this year (why won’t Dallas just GO AWAY?), but I like where the team is headed. I think, however, that our progress has been possible only because Shanahan locked Dan Snyder in a cage somewhere deep in the bowels of FedEx Field. Hopefully Shanny feeds him nothing but the stadium’s $15 chicken nuggets. But if Snyder decides he wants to get back into personnel decisions, the Redskins are screwed. Sometimes I think Shanahan and Bruce Allen traded away all our first-round picks just so Snyder couldn’t force them to draft players that are manifestly terrible at football just because he has a “feeling,” e.g. such luminaries as Patrick Ramsay, Jason Campbell, and Devin Thomas. Man! Other teams are SO CRAZY for passing on Malcolm Kelly!

On to Kirk—KIRK! I was one of the relative few who liked the decision to draft this kid, after watching him for years during Notre Dame-Michigan State games (my ND fandom is another reason for the aforementioned life-shortening stress). And it isn’t just because he reminds me of a blonde Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers, anyone?). He’s proven himself capable of overcoming the “Oh shit!” moment of having to fill in for the most dynamic player in the NFL, and he’s done it well. Kirk-baby went in for a single play (just long enough for RG3 to tape his knee back together and get twelve cortisone shots), and Kyle Shanahan didn’t immediately dial up a draw—he let the kid throw! Turns out I don’t mind having a baby-faced product of nepotism with something to prove as an offensive coordinator. And what the hell, maybe after a dozen more plays, we can trade Cousins for some goodies, a la the Matt Flynn/Matt Cassel/Kevin Kolb deals. Anyone have a spare DB? Because lord knows we aren’t getting any in the draft anytime soon.

NATHAN: I’m sure Sam can point you in the direction of William Gay. But I totally agree with what you said about being “simultaneously terrified and excited” to root for RG3. I feel the exact same way, and the only team toward which I have more apathy than the Redskins is probably the Dolphins. To borrow Steve Young’s vernacular, I vehemently believe that Robert Griffin III could end up being the greatest player of all-time. Not only is he arguably the most naturally gifted running quarterback ever (in 13 games: 6 rushing TDs, 6.7 yards per carry, with a 76-yard run), he’s also having perhaps the most efficient rookie passing season ever: with no true number-one receiver, he’s thrown 18 TDs to 4 INTs, and his yards per attempt (8.3) and rating (104.2) are best in the NFL.

[pullquote_left]How can Redskins fans fully enjoy RG3 when he’s always one run away from injury?[/pullquote_left]

But what’s most astounding is that he’s proven to be one of the most accurate passers: his 66.4 percent completion percentage is fifth in the league, fourth if you remove NFL leader Alex Smith. Here are the career completion percentages of the two most recent superstar “running” quarterbacks: Michael Vick, 56.3; Cam Newton, 59.2. If, as Ross Tucker once said, Aaron Rodgers is scary because he runs like Steve Young and throws like Dan Marino, RG3 is terrifying because he runs like Michael Vick and throws like Tom Brady. Playing the most important position in a hybrid way that no one has ever possessed the talent to do supplies him with the GOAT potential.

Unfortunately, Vick’s multiple injuries have highlighted the downside of such ability: if you’re a running QB, it’s better to be a scrappy scrambler (Young, John Elway, Donovan McNabb, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Favre) than a vertical runner. As such, RG3’s already taken the sort of vicious hits a QB is exposed to when galloping downfield. (Of course, history might say that it’s actually best for QBs not to run at all, and instead to stay in the pocket and slide around protection, a la Brady, Joe Montana, the Mannings). How can Redskins fans fully enjoy this guy when he’s always one run away from injury?

But here’s a wrinkle: once-in-a-lifetime puts such an enormous burden on the athlete (or conventional artists likes writers, actors, and musicians) that the misfortune (or fateful intervention, as I’m sure many people believe) of a catastrophic injury helps soften the athlete’s failure to live up to potential. Potential is just an observer’s creation, anyway; my belief that RG3 has GOAT potential is based on some shaky part-observational, part-emotional formula. The truth is, no one has any idea how good he can be. Just because he is ultra-talented and is intelligent and (apparently) has the type of fun-loving personality we want QBs to have doesn’t mean he won’t prove to be a highly above average “paper” quarterback. This is similar to the LeBron James narrative, but LeBron ultimately triumphed in the way we expected him to because, in basketball, the best player can completely dominate each game. RG3 has far less control over his team. It’s unsettling to think that, for all his talent and hope, if his teams aren’t always competing for the Super Bowl, he could wind up a bland, unspectacular, unfulfilling excellent player.

Okay, enough! Mary, while we have you here, instead of forcing you to further worry about your quarterback, can you tell me about Redskins fans? What makes them different than all other fans?

[pullquote_right]The Redskins’ Wikipedia page actually has a section titled “Franchise Downturn: 1993-present.”[/pullquote_right]

MARY: Redskin fans are different from all other fans because we’re truly desperate. We’re talking about a team whose Wikipedia page actually has a section titled “Franchise Downturn: 1993-present.” Not to mention that no other Washington team has been a winner lately. We have the Caps and Nats, but every time they convince us they’re for real, they lose in a blaze of Game 7 glory, in a first- or second-round series no less. And I’m not even going to start on the Wiz; the only good thing to come out of that franchise in the last decade is John Wall’s Dougie video. (Apologies to D.C. United fans, though I’m not sure getting to an MLS Cup semifinal can cure the city’s sports ills).

The Redskins are the third-most valuable franchise in the NFL, so it’s impossible for us to understand why, with all that cash, we can’t buy a Super Bowl. But we show up every week, sellout after sellout, even when we’re forced to watch John Beck or Tim Hasselbeck or Jason Campbell. Maybe it’s an escape from the über-political self-importance of the city. Or maybe we’re just masochists. Either way, something’s eventually gotta give. Until then, the only way we’ll be relevant is in predicting presidential races. Oh wait.

SAM: Just to chime in, I think that Daniel Snyder’s crazed in-your-face incompetence (Exhibit A: his bromance with Tom Cruise), paired with the fact that it seemed like he truly believed he could win his way, is what sets the Redskins apart from a similar fate of long suffering. The Browns haven’t started a decent quarterback since Bernie Kosar (jury’s still out on Weeden) and never really held out hope to actually improve as a franchise. The Raiders may have been held hostage by the late Al Davis’s years of terrible drafts, just as the Cowboys’ tyrant owner Jerry Jones is refusing to relinquish his GM role despite the fact that he seems to spend more time guest-starring on Entourage than actually figuring out talent. But shit, at least the Raiders were one of the best teams in football as recently as ten years ago; the Cardinals were an inch from winning the Super Bowl in 2009; and Dallas . . . well, OK, Dallas sucks.

Dan Snyder, though, takes it to a whole new level. It seemed like the biggest ongoing joke among the football community for years was guessing which “has-been” (or never-was) the Skins were going to guarantee $55 million to in the offseason. Deion Sanders, Adam Archuleta, LaVar Arrington, Bruce Smith, Albert Haynesworth . . . those are the ones I can pick off the top of my head. And the Skins fans noticed. As a Pirates fan, I’ve spent years bemoaning my nickel-and-dime owners who blatantly refuse to put any money back into the team, condemning us to years of suckitude. But what if we’d posted 20 straight losing seasons with a $200 million payroll? (Well, I guess the Dodgers fans know.) If you’re going to be awful, it must be even worse to know that the owner is actively screwing up virtually every personnel move rather than simply taking his revenue check earnings and doing Scrooge McDuck things.

NATHAN: And it’s a shame, because the Redskins are one of the NFL’s great original franchises. Mary, I doubt you can remember the 1937 move from Boston to D.C., the 1942 NFL Championship, or the 1969 Vince Lombardi year, but surely you have some good Skins memories that predate RG3.

[pullquote_left]I will always treasure watching Tony Romo flub the hold on a chip-shot field.[/pullquote_left]

MARY: It would even be a cop out to choose the 1992 Super Bowl win as my favorite memory, since I was barely nine and don’t remember it much. The best would have to be beating Dallas at home in 2002 in Darrell Green’s last game. He had a 35-yard punt return at the age of 42. That man will always be the epitome of class. Good thing we have him around to trot out like Rudy when the players start to (understandably) get down on themselves. Second best? Easy—and the Redskins weren’t even playing: I will always treasure watching Tony Romo flub the hold on a chip-shot field goal to lose the 2007 Wild Card. Seriously, I could watch that over and over. And over.

NATHAN: I enjoyed that, too. And it’s a great “What if?” It’s tempting to imagine the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl, but we all know it’s far more likely that Romo would’ve found a way to throw 65 passes for 480 yards and three picks the next game. By the way, isn’t negation what’s great about fandom? It ends up providing us with an endless cycle of positive pleasure: “My team sucks, but the teams I hate suck, so I’m having a good time!” I’m convinced this is why the Cowboys are so popular. (And thanks, Beano Cook.)

On the note of suckitude, let’s end with your worst memories as a Redskins fan. Take it away.

MARY: Not even close—it was finding out Sean Taylor had been murdered in his home, and that if he’d only gotten to the hospital a bit faster, he might have been saved. There’s no question he would have been one of the best safeties to play the game.

My on-the-field worst moment would have to be the 2008 Wild Card game. In the fourth quarter, the Skins came back from a 13-0 deficit against the Seahawks, then blew the lead: Shaun Suisham missed a late field goal, and Todd Collins threw two consecutive pick sixes to put the final touches on our last legitimate chance to do something positive. Here’s to hoping we get another chance before RG3 runs out of knees.

[[1]]The BROWNS! And yes, I’m making it my personal quest to link to this video any time that I reference Cleveland.[[1]]