IRVING, Texas — Robert Griffin III, the Texas-bred quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy at Baylor, comes to his home state for the first time as a pro for the most traditional of Thanksgiving rivalries — Cowboys vs. Redskins.
Hold on a minute with all that drama and emotion building for Thursday’s game. The Washington rookie grew up in Central Texas rooting for the Denver Broncos.
“It’s one game and that’s what we’ve got,” Griffin said. “We’ve got the Dallas Cowboys, and that’s what I’m going to play like.”
Hold on another minute before deciding he is completely blowing off the pretty cool idea that he’s coming home for a big game on a unique stage. He gets it.
“It will be fun. I’ll see a lot of familiar faces,” Griffin said. “It’s Cowboys-Redskins or Redskins-Cowboys, whatever way you want to put it. Me being a Texas kid, I know how big the rivalry is and I get my fair shot at it.”
Griffin has practical reasons for approaching Thursday’s game as one Washington needs to win. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo does, too.
The Redskins (4-6) kept themselves in the playoff conversation by coming off the bye with a 31-6 blowout of Philadelphia, sparked by 14 of 15 passing and four touchdowns from Griffin. A win puts the Cowboys (5-5) a half-game behind the New York Giants in the NFC East five days after they risked ruining their season against last-place Cleveland before winning 23-20 in overtime.
“It started for us two weeks back,” Romo said. “We’ve been putting our head down and grinding, going forward and trying put together win after win.”
The Cowboys have played the Redskins more than any other team in their annual Thanksgiving home game, and Dallas has won all six previous meetings. The Cowboys also are trying to win their fourth straight against Washington, which would be the longest streak in eight years.
But the Redskins haven’t brought a quarterback like Griffin into this game in a long time. Statistically, he’s ahead of the other four rookies who began the season as starters, and he’s right there with most of the veterans. He’s one of six quarterbacks with a rating of at least 100, completing 67 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
The Redskins lost six of eight after Griffin’s remarkable debut in a win at New Orleans, so maybe it was easy to forget about him. He sort of reminded everyone by picking apart the Eagles. He’s also in the top 20 in rushing in the NFL with 613 yards. The next quarterback is Cam Newton at 394. The Cowboys have faced both.
“You can’t really go into a game worried about this guy scrambling because it will slow you up and probably put you in a worse situation than just trying to go after him,” said Dallas defensive end Marcus Spears. “Obviously, we have to have awareness of where he is and where he can escape.”
Griffin isn’t the only runner the Redskins have. Another rookie, Alfred Morris, is fifth in the league with 869 yards rushing, and Washington is one of four teams with two games of 200-plus yards on the ground this season.
The Dallas running game is struggling through the extended absence of starter DeMarco Murray and an offensive line that is also battling injuries.
Murray is likely to miss his sixth straight game against the Redskins, and backup Felix Jones is battling a knee injury that could limit him. Without those two, the Cowboys would have to rely on a pair of undrafted players in rookie Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner. In five games without Murray, the Cowboys have rushed for 100 yards once.
“We’ve shuffled guys through, but it hasn’t just been there, it’s been everywhere really,” Romo said. “Our offensive line, we’ve had to move guys around and do different things.”
Romo was sacked a career-high seven times by the Browns behind a line that started the game with a new center and a replacement guard, and ended up having to fill in for left tackle Tyson Smith when he sprained an ankle. One of the few constants, right tackle Doug Free, has been the focus of questions all week after he was beaten repeatedly by Cleveland.
“Every game you can look at it and say I did this wrong, I did that wrong,” Free said. “Some are worse than others, but I mean every game you’ve got things to work on, things to fix. You’ve got to stay focused on the task at hand.”
The Washington defense has lost several starters to injury, and even linebacker London Fletcher is in danger of missing a game for the first time in his 15-year career. He’s tied with Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber for the league’s longest active streak at 234 straight games, but he injured an ankle last weekend against the Eagles and faced the short week of recovery time.
“It matters to London. It matters to us, not necessarily the streak, but playing,” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. “And there is a reason why he has played all those games because he plays when he is hurt and hopefully he will be able to play.”
Griffin will play, and plenty of folks from the hometown of Copperas Cove, Texas, will be at Cowboys Stadium, where he’s 1-0 after beating Texas Tech in a neutral site game for the Bears last year, although he left early with concussion-like symptoms.
“He’s kind of a different guy,” Shanahan said. “He’s pretty relaxed no matter where he goes or who he’s with. It just seems like he’s pretty cool, calm and collected. He handles different stages as good as anybody I’ve been around.”