ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Washington Redskins top draft pick Robert Griffin III played only three series and did it behind a make-shift offensive line, but he did enough to impress his coach and quite a few others in his NFL debut Thursday.
Griffin completed 4 of 6 passes for 70 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon that was the only score in the Redskins’ 7-6 victory over the Buffalo Bills in a sloppily played preseason game that included 23 penalties.
“I thought he did an excellent job,” Washington Coach Mike Shanahan said. “He managed the game well, got us in and out of the huddle on time in the right formations. His reads, his progressions were good. I thought he played well.”
Despite playing behind an offensive line that featured three subs in the starting lineup, Griffin III guided the Redskins on a nifty, eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive in his third series. During the drive, the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor connected with Garcon for completions of 20, 18 and 20 yards. The last of those completions gave Washington a 7-3 lead with 5:54 to go in the first quarter.
“It felt extremely good to come out (and play),” Griffin III told the Redskins Radio Network during the game. “Coach did a good job calling plays, got me in rhythm and helped get the offense in rhythm on that third drive.”
Running back Evan Royster, starting in place of Tim Hightower, who’s coming back from a torn ACL, aided the march. He gained 22 yards on four carries against a much-hyped Bills defensive line, featuring $100-million free agent left end Mario Williams, who was making his Buffalo debut.
Griffin III’s first series resulted in a punt. He handed off to Royster on his first two snaps, and the Bills’ stout defensive line held the second-year back from Penn State to two yards. On third-and-8, Griffin III completed a pass to Garcon at the 31, but the receiver was ruled out-of-bounds, so the Skins had to punt.
“I thought he was in,” Griffin III said. “We all thought he was in. It looked like he dragged his toe for about four yards from the sideline. But they said it was incomplete so you’ve just got to run off the field and move on to the next one.”
On the second play of Washington’s second possession, Griffin III completed his first pass for 12 yards to Leonard Hankerson. The rookie quarterback then handed off to Royster, who lost a fumble that was recovered by Bills safety George Wilson at the Redskins 21. That turnover led to a 43-yard field goal by Rian Lindell that gave Buffalo a 3-0 lead with 9:37 left in the first quarter.
Griffin III, the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft last April, was on the field for 14 snaps and was replaced by Rex Grossman before Washington’s fourth possession.
“It was fun to get out and run around and suit up in a Redskins uniform for the first time, officially,” Griffin III said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Garcon, who caught three of Griffin III’s passes for 58 yards, was impressed.
“It’s very good to watch him,” said the receiver, who spent several seasons catching passes from former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. “I can help him out as much as I can because I’ve been around a great quarterback and have been in the league for a while. I can try to give him a little bit of knowledge. We communicate and help each other. It’s great to see him come into his own.”
Bills starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t look sharp in his preseason debut. In four series, he completed 6 of 14 passes for 61 yards. He did, however, toss what appeared to be a 21-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson in the first quarter, but it was nullified by an illegal formation penalty. The Bills had to settle for Lindell’s field goal at the end of what wound up being a bizarre four-play, minus-4-yard scoring drive.
“I thought it was really poor,” Fitzpatrick said when asked to assess the execution of the Bills first-team offense. “But luckily it’s preseason. It is the beginning of preseason. We have got a lot to work on and we are looking forward to this season coming up. Just staying healthy in the preseason is one of the biggest things for us.”
The Bills cut the deficit to 7-6 with 13:20 left in the game on a 45-yard field goal by Lindell. The 15-play, 57-yard drive featured several runs by backup quarterback Vince Young, who finished with 37 yards on five carries. Young, who played most of the second half, completed 5 of 12 for 50yards.
Notes: The Redskins were forced to start three reserve offensive linemen because of injuries. Maurice Hurt replaced Kory Lichtensteiger at left guard, Adam Gettis started in place of Chris Chester at center, and Tyler Polumbus replaced Jammal Brown at right tackle . . . Williams, whom the Bills made the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history in the offseason, played parts of three series and was not credited with a single tackle . . . The Bills also started a make-shift O-Line as Andy Levitre was the only starter to open the game at his normal position – left guard . . . The Bills threw on their first 15 plays . . . Buffalo’s all-time punting leader Brian Moorman was in mid-season form, pinning four of five first-half punts inside the 20 . . . The normally accurate Lindell shanked a 22-yard field goal attempt with 1:58 to go in the first half . . . Washington outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan had a sack and a batted-down pass in the first two series . . . Garcon caught three passes for 58 yards . . . The announced crowd of 51,521 was about 20,000 shy of a sell-out . . . The Bills were penalized 14 times for 134 yards, the Redskins, nine times for 56 yards . . . Washington’s Alfred Morris led all rushers with 54 yards on 15 carries.