ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Robert Griffin III sat on a sofa, working the controls of a new video game, the always-present dog tags and finance’s high school ring dangling from his neck. His speech is flush with self-confidence. He is fully aware of what he’s done and what he means to the Washington Redskins, just seven games into his career.
He has quickly become one of most dynamic players in the NFL.
“I didn’t come in joking,” Griffin said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. “I came in working hard. You don’t come in showing them all your personality all at one time, because then you can become extremely annoying. So you want to come in and show them, ‘Hey, I’m a hardworking guy. Coach brought me here for a reason, to help us win.’ And you build that reputation through the preseason games, through practice.
“I’ve done it through the first seven games,” he continued, “and now I don’t think there’s a player on this team that has any doubt that I’m a leader of a football team, and that every time we step on the football field we have a chance to win, not only because I’m their quarterback, but because they’re out there with me.
“It’s something you build over time. Kind of like if you’re dating a girl: You don’t show her everything on the first date.”
Then he flashed that million-dollar RG3 smile.
Take his words in black and white, and one could mistake him for a braggart. His tone, however, is analytical, as if the 22-year-old rookie is giving a dispassionate review of his inaugural NFL season even as he is living it.
Griffin has wowed the NFL and brought the Redskins back to life. He leads the NFL in completion percentage and is third in passer rating. He’s run for 468 yards — on pace for more than 1,000 — and his six rushing touchdown rank second in the league.
Those are just numbers. Just watch one fourth-quarter drive against the New York Giants — the scramble to get room to complete a fourth-and-10 pass, the 23-yard run, the perfect throw to Santana Moss for a 30-yard touchdown that temporarily gave the Redskins the lead — and it’s easy to conclude that Griffin will make Washington competitive for many years to come.
That’s not good enough for the rookie. He wants to win this year. With the Redskins at 3-4 headed into Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he feels he has a shot at making it happen.
“There are guys on this team that don’t have three, four years to wait for me to develop, and continue to use the excuse that I’m a young quarterback,” he said. “London Fletcher doesn’t have that many years. (DeAngelo) Hall is a guy that, based on history, doesn’t have a ton of years left in his career, so I wanted them to know that I was going to come in and try to be ready as soon as possible, and I think I’ve done that. And by no means am I there, and I continue to get better, but I don’t hold myself to a rookie-type of mindset.
“If I throw a pick, it’s not because I’m a rookie. It’s because I made a mistake. That’s how I look at it.”
If that sounds like a lot of self-belief for someone new to the pros, Griffin has a response: “If you don’t believe, who else is going to believe?”
Griffin is fully aware that fans, teammates and family are concerned about his health, especially after he suffered a concussion in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons earlier this month. He promised everyone afterward that he would take better care of himself. Even though his rushing totals have increased in the two games since, he feels he is running for smarter yards.
“I’ve done the best job of protecting myself in both of those games,” he said. “Getting out of bounds, getting down when I have to, and not taking big hits. So if I run for first downs, or run for 90 yards or 80 yards and I’m able to get out of bounds, then it doesn’t matter.”
The Redskins lost to the Giants, 27-23, despite Griffin’s late drive, but it’s one of those defeats that perhaps could serve as a psychological springboard.
“There’s no moral victories, but we walked out of the game feeling that we won the game, because we did dominate the game. We should have won the game,” Griffin said. “We’re upset that we lost, but we don’t hang our heads saying, ‘Man, we went out there and got our butt whipped.'”
Griffin took some time away from football Tuesday to indulge a couple of passions. He was trying out the soon-to-be-released Assassin’s Creed III video game, and the game’s publisher is featuring him in a painting that’s being auctioned off to benefit Rock the Vote.
“I grew up in the military,” he said. “I’ve lived that life. I know that our soldiers are out there fighting for our right to vote and they’re out there fighting for other countries’ rights to vote. … Guys have been dying for it, and we have to go out and exercise it.”
Griffin is registered in his home state of Texas. He has met President Barack Obama and has challenged the commander in chief to a basketball game, but he declined to state his own political beliefs, saying that race, religion and politics are “three things you don’t talk about.”
He will talk video games, which he says work better as an offseason hobby.
“It’s easier to watch a movie than it is to play a video game during the season, just because you can fall asleep on the movie,” Griffin said. “Usually when you play a video game and you get into it, you want to keep playing. That kind of can hurt you during the football season.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.