(Reuters) - Robert Griffin III made a statement debut as Washington Redskins quarterback but it was the opening Sunday performance of 36-year-old Peyton Manning that will have most pleased neutral observers of the National Football League.
Every fan loves to see an exciting, talented new quarterback on the scene and the Redskins’ Griffin, the second overall pick in this year’s draft, came through one of the toughest baptisms the league can offer - against the Saints in the Superdome - with hugely impressive stats of two touchdown passes, 320 passing yards, zero interceptions and a win.
‘RG3’ has certainly awoken a franchise that badly needed rousing from years of mediocrity and, with fellow rookie running back Alfred Morris also shining with two touchdowns and 96 rushing yards, there is plenty for Redskins fans to look forward to this season.
“He’s got a bright, bright future,” former Redskins great of the 1960’s Sonny Jurgensen told CSN Washington about Griffin. “It’s going to be fun for us.”
Jurgensen was particularly impressed that Griffin did not overuse his ability to run with the ball and showed astute decision-making.
“He’s got the big arm and he’s so quick and he buys time back there. It was good to see him get out on the outside (of the pocket) a couple of times and he didn’t elect to run. He still made the play with his arm,” Jurgensen said.
Anyone who saw Griffin perform for Baylor University last year knew he was a special talent who, sooner or later, would light up the professional game - perhaps not in week one in New Orleans in such impressive fashion but certainly this season.
What was much less clear was whether Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks the league has seen, would be able to come back at the age of 36, after four neck surgeries and over a year on the sidelines, and still look like an elite quarterback.
After being released by the Indianapolis Colts after 14 years and moving to the Denver Broncos, there were legitimate questions asked about Manning’s arm-strength and his capacity to take big hits, both of which were largely answered during pre-season.
But looking right and going through the drills effectively in meaningless pre-season games and in training camps are very different from taking charge of an offense in week one and delivering - especially against a defense as accomplished as that of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Manning made a cautious start but ended his debut for the Broncos with 253 yards passing and two touchdowns in a 31-19 victory, emerging victorious from a fascinating duel with his Steelers counterpart Ben Roethlisberger.
“There have been so many questions. We’ve been talking about it for six months,” former Bronco’s Hall of Fame quarterback turned executive vice-president of football operations John Elway told the Denver Post.
“I think we saw that Peyton Manning still has a lot of football left him,” he said.
It was when Manning switched to a no-huddle offense, his trademark approach in Indianapolis where his decision making came to the fore, that his time away from the game just melted away and the four-time MVP looked just the player he did before his injury troubles.
“It was fantastic, especially when they went to the no-huddle,” said Manning’s former Colts coach Tony Dungy, now a television analyst with NBC.
“Most people won’t know how much he worked, how much he re-habbed without being sure if he could get back. To come back and play this way, this is the Peyton Manning that I’ve been used to seeing,” he said.
The Broncos, who reached the playoffs last year with unorthodox Tim Tebow at quarterback, should be looking for a deeper run into the post-season this year with their solid defense now allied to a master passer.
The Redskins, rarely a contender in recent seasons, can begin to dream of making the post-season themselves, perhaps not this year but certainly, with Griffin, in the near future.
And the rest of us? We get to enjoy Peyton Manning for a little longer while keeping a close eye on the next generation led by Griffin, last year’s rookie sensation Cam Newton at Carolina and Manning’s replacement at Indianapolis, Andrew Luck.
Reporting By Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes