Robert Griffin III makes Redskins-Giants must-see drama

Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins scrambles Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins scrambles with the ball in the second half. (Dec. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

LANDOVER, Md.

When the Giants last saw Robert Griffin III in October, he was wowing them with his eye-popping skills in a narrow Redskins loss, inspiring defensive players to take turns gushing.

End Justin Tuck had one of the more memorable quotes that day, saying of RG3, "I'm pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East.''

The line drew a laugh, but Monday night no one was laughing after the Giants lost to Griffin's Redskins, 17-16. Least of all Tuck.

"I'm still mad,'' he said. "If he stays healthy, he's going to play havoc on defenses for a long time.''

What is bad news for defenses is good news for the NFL, fans and television partners such as ESPN, which spent most of its time before, during and after Monday night's game lauding the rookie phenom.

Griffin is precisely what a storied rivalry needed in its 80th anniversary season -- and what a storied division needed during what has been a mostly mediocre 2012.

The Tony Romo Era in north Texas has grown a tad stale and the Eagles soon will have to start from scratch, so Redskins-Giants is our best hope for some NFC East pizzazz into the mid-2010s and perhaps beyond.

The beyond part might depend on how long the Giants' Eli Manning, 31, can play at a high level, because barring injury problems, Griffin, 22, seems destined to dazzle into the 2020s.

There was no doubting Griffin's status as a rising star Monday, complete with Redskins fans chanting "R-G-3'' before the opening kickoff and again as the clock wound down.

His statistics were relatively modest, with fellow rookie Alfred Morris doing most of the heavy lifting with 124 yards rushing. But Griffin was more than good enough, rushing for 72 yards and passing for 163, including the game-winner to Pierre Garcon in the fourth quarter.

"There were plays in there we should have had sacks where he outran us,'' Tuck said. "There were some plays in there we should have tackled him but he outran us.''

Said coach Tom Coughlin: "That kind of speed is going to be devastating anytime.''

The two quarterbacks settled into the kind of back-and-forth battle that made their first encounter memorable and got everyone excited about the future.

Look no further than a sequence in the third quarter. Griffin, who to that point had done less running then usual, took off on a third-and-1 and gained 46 yards to the Giants' 15 with the Redskins trailing 13-10.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, the drive ended when the Giants' Keith Rivers recovered a Morris fumble at the 9, at which point Manning took the game in another direction with a 49-yard pass to Victor Cruz that set up a field goal.

So it went all night. The Redskins' first touchdown even came on a play on which Griffin did something right even as he did something wrong.

At the end of a 12-yard run deep into Giants territory, he lost the ball just before his rear end hit the ground. It popped up and out toward the sideline and into the arms of receiver Joshua Morgan, who ran it in from 13 yards out.

Manning later led a late-first-half touchdown drive on which he converted one third down after escaping pressure, looking a lot like Griffin. He converted another with a 30-yard completion in traffic to Cruz, looking a lot like, well, Manning.

Then, finally, there was RG3 driving the 'Skins back down the field in the fourth quarter, first completing the game-winner and later running out the clock to set up what should be a very interesting December.

Tuck might not appreciate it, but the football gods knew exactly what they were doing.

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