Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, too young to feel the pain, offer relief for long-suffering Washington faithful.
WASHINGTON — They are too young to understand the angst, too new to this region to understand why there were tears being shed in the stands above them at FedEx Field. In the context of the Washington Redskins’ history, Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris are mere babies. Some Redskins fans have emotional scars that are older.
But on a frigid Sunday night that felt unmistakably like playoff weather, jarring long-dormant memories of glorious winters past, the two rookies marched the Redskins through the heart of the Dallas Cowboys’ defense and straight into the NFL playoffs.
There will be January football, playoff football, at FedEx Field this weekend for the first time in 13 years when Seattle makes the trip to Washington for the 1:30 p.m. game Sunday.
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As the final seconds ticked down for the Redskins against the Cowboys, fans ignored the cold, and the oncoming blitz of winter behind it, and rejoiced in a season extended by a victory on a night when a defeat would have ended it.
As many expected, the rookie phenom in the Redskins’ backfield was clearly the best player on the field, finding daylight where none seemed to exist and getting the ball to the end zone better than anyone else. Only this time, the rookie wasn’t Griffin, the emerging superstar quarterback. It was Morris, the unassuming sixth-round draft choice who drives a 1991 Mazda 626 he calls his “Bentley.”
With Griffin still slowed by a knee injury suffered three weeks ago, Morris, even more than usual, became the Redskins’ workhorse. Griffin, 22, fed him the ball, and Morris, 24, ran to daylight. By the third quarter, Morris owned the Redskins’ single-season rushing record, bettering Clinton Portis’s 7-year-old mark of 1,516 yards, and by the end of the game, he had carried the ball 33 times for 200 yards, both career highs.
Morris, plowing through defenders and hitting holes like vintage John Riggins, rushed for three of the Redskins’ four touchdowns, with Griffin accounting for the other one.
Twenty years of angst, dating from the Redskins’ last Super Bowl team, had been building up to the kickoff Sunday, when it exploded across the region, from living rooms to the jampacked sports bars to the raucous stands at FedEx Field.
In some sections, fans stood the entire game, either to stay warm, or simply because their nerves would not allow them to sit. They watched the Redskins fall behind by a touchdown early, build an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter — on Morris’s 32-yard touchdown run — then hang on in the face of another Cowboys comeback.
It was easily the Redskins’ biggest game in five years, and arguably the biggest at FedEx Field in 13. By late afternoon, before they had even left their hotel for the stadium, the Redskins knew their game Sunday night was a do-or-die proposition. The Chicago Bears’ victory at Detroit had eliminated the Redskins from wild-card contention and simplified their mission.
The complex calculus of the various playoff scenarios of weeks past had been whittled down to two simple facts: If the Redskins won, they would clinch the NFC East title and host a playoff game next Sunday. If they lost, their season was over.
This was the final game of the 2012 NFL regular season, shifted a week earlier from afternoon to evening by league and television officials who wanted it in prime time. That meant an extra seven-plus hours of obsessing and pumping-up for Redskins fans who hardly needed it.
At FedEx Field, fans arrived early, tailgated hard and screamed loud. The first “R-G-III!” chants took hold across FedEx Field during the coin toss.
In any Redskins season, Dallas week — as the days leading up to the renewal of this rivalry are called — is worthy of a circle on the calendar.
But this was arguably the biggest Redskins-Cowboys game since the 1982 NFC Championship Game.
That the Redskins would even be in such position — facing a win-and-get-in game in Week 17 at FedEx Field — would have been preposterous seven weeks ago, when they staggered into their bye week with a 3-6 record two days before Election Day, with their fan base in revolt and their coach, Mike Shanahan, facing pointed questioning about whether or not he had given up on the season in his postgame comments.
In the glow of FedEx Field’s lights Sunday night, through eyes full of mist, that looked like a lifetime ago. It is a new season now for the Redskins — playoff season — and no one will mind a bit of winter sits itself down and stays for a while.