Robert Griffin III says he won't play afraid, but he's scaring Washington Redskins fans.
As the list of injured starters -- Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker, Pierre Garcon, Brandon Meriweather and Trent Williams -- continues to grow, fans wince every time Griffin scrambles. That the rookie quarterback seems to be the second coming of Michael Vick suddenly seems like a bad thing. The Redskins are doomed if Griffin gets hurt.
Griffin says he doesn't feel the frequent hits the next morning. That's the great part about being 22 years old. But the steady pounding Griffin has taken in the first three games in the pocket and on the option eventually will mount, whether that means a short-term injury or a shorter career. He's too good to risk but also too good to restrain.
"It's not a show. In college, we say it all the time -- 'Tough guys have to be tough guys,'?" Griffin said. "You can't just talk tough and then play soft. By no means do I have to be the toughest guy on the field. That's what you have the offensive linemen for. They are supposed to be the guys that are the toughest on the field."
Griffin ran 12 times for 85 yards, only a few to the safety of the sidelines, where defenders still tried to shove him hard to the ground. Washington finally ran Brandon Banks three times on an option pitch. Throw in six sacks and 13 backfield hits and Griffin was hit more than two dozen times.
But Griffin has to project confidence and lead even though he has played just three games. If he starts running for the sidelines instead of making plays on the run, the offense will regress.
"The one thing I won't do personally is quit or play scared," he said. "I've never played scared in my life, so it doesn't matter how many times I get hit. I'm going to continue to get back up. Even if they have to cart me off the field, I'm going to get off that cart and walk away."
Griffin finally witnessed the Redskins' past offensive woes in the first half of the 38-31 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. The offense was blanked until a field goal with 31 seconds remaining. The unit lacked any rhythm.
"I can't point out one thing," Griffin said. "It's tough with a game like that where it's hard to figure out or point your finger at 'OK, this is a problem.' We just want to get in rhythm. We got a really good rhythm in the second half, and we made the most of that."
The third quarter was a complete reversal with consecutive 80- and 86-yard touchdown drives to tie the game. A 90-yard scoring drive came in the fourth, and Griffin seemed ready to go 98 yards for the tying touchdown in the waning seconds before a sack snuffed the rally.
"We went out. We made sure that we were focused on what it was," Griffin said. "It doesn't matter what Coach calls. We've got to make it work."
And stay in one piece.