Anthony Armstrong takes advantage of rare opportunity with the Redskins

November 27, 2011

For the past month, wide receiver Anthony Armstrong had faced some variation of the same question almost daily. Yes, he was most definitely frustrated — frustrated on Sundays, frustrated throughout the work week, and frustrated when he went home each night.

He says he felt different Sunday afternoon, though. Even though he was again on the sideline while other Washington Redskins’ wideouts played, Armstrong says he told his teammates, “I'm not really carrying that frustration with me right now.”

The second-year player was just waiting for his opportunity, and when it finally came in the fourth quarter Sunday, he took full advantage. Armstrong’s 50-yard touchdown catapulted the Redskins over the Seahawks, 23-17, helping Washington snap its six-game losing streak.

Armstrong had to come to rainy Seattle to snap a dry spell that had come to define his season. Armstrong averaged 58 yards a game last season but had only 47 yards total entering Sunday’s contest. He hadn’t had a catch since Oct. 23 at Carolina, and he’d had only one reception since Week 2.

“Just because somebody doesn’t have any catches doesn’t mean you’re not going to him,” said quarterback Rex Grossman, “because you have confidence in him.”

Midway through the final quarter Sunday, the Redskins trailed 17-14 and faced a daunting third and 19 from midfield. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan dialed up a deep route and sent Armstrong in for one of his rare appearances on offense. He hadn’t seen a single ball thrown his way all day and primarily was on the field playing special teams.

Before the snap, both receiver and quarterback knew the ball would be headed Armstrong’s way.

“I knew Rex was going to put it up there,” Armstrong said. “He has trust in me, regardless of how things have been going.”

Grossman spotted the safety and knew that even though Donte Stallworth was running an identical go-route down the opposite sideline and Santana Moss was running a hook route inside, Armstrong was the best target.

“I saw they had no one over the top of Anthony Armstrong, one of the fastest guys in the NFL, and so I tried to buy enough time for him to eat up the cushion of the defender and just blow by him,” Grossman said.

With no safety to worry about, Armstrong only needed to beat Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner. The Redskins weren’t too worried about that. Coaches had showed Washington’s receivers several clips last week of how Browner reacts on similar routes.

“We’d seen all week he really wasn’t the best at tracking the ball,” Armstrong said.

The wide receiver sprinted straight down the sideline. Grossman stepped up in the pocket and fired the ball downfield. Browner was beaten and tried to defend the play by grabbing Armstrong. He was flagged for pass interference, but it didn’t matter. Armstrong held on to the ball.

“When that ball went up in the air, you could see he was going to come down with it,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “[Armstrong’s] speed — there was a little separation. You could see the explosion that he had when he ran by the DB.”

Armstrong battled a hamstring injury earlier this season and was a nonfactor during the team’s six-game losing streak. He talked daily with coaches and stayed late after practices, working with Keenan McCardell, the wide receivers coach.

“I just want to be able to be on my assignments day in and day out — each play — just so that they’ll know, ‘Okay, if I have to put him in there, he’ll be able to make a play,’ ” Armstrong said. “You just kind of have to build confidence back in yourself. Once everybody gets on the same page and they feel comfortable with you, you get your opportunities.”

Armstrong doesn’t know if Sunday's touchdown catch — his lone reception of the day — will translate to more playing time. But he knows it certainly won’t hurt his case.

“It’s been a long, stressful kind of season. . . . To be able to make a play was huge,” he said.

Rick Maese is a sports features writer for The Washington Post.
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