It should probably be no surprise that Jabar Gaffney’s production suffered a lull at midseason. While the Redskins’ whole offense sputtered, Gaffney especially saw his numbers diminished by the team’s quarterback changes.
But with Chris Cooley on injured reserve, Fred Davis suspended for the remainder of the season and Santana Moss missing four games with a broken hand, Gaffney has emerged as quarterback Rex Grossman’s top target as the season winds to a close.
The quarterback and wide receiver attended the University of Florida together, and Grossman is usually careful not to differentiate Gaffney from the team’s other receivers.
“Ever since Florida, he's been my guy,” Grossman said in a minor slip following the team’s 23-10 win over the New York Giants last Sunday. “Not that anybody else on this team doesn’t have amazing skills.”
Gaffney and Grossman’s relationship has paid dividends on the field for both players over the years. Gaffney’s four best games as a Redskin have all come in the past five weeks. He posted a season-high 115 receiving yards Nov. 20 against Dallas in Grossman’s second game back as starter. Gaffney then had 72 yards the following week at Seattle, 92 yards Dec. 11 against New England and 85 yards last Sunday at the New York Giants.
“I think it’s just both of our competitive nature,” Gaffney said. “Ever since we first stepped into college, we both took the same approach to football and always wanting to make a big play. We still have that same drive to this day.”
The two were Steve Spurrier recruits who redshirted in 1999. Grossman took over as the Gators’ quarterback four games into the 2000 season. That’s the exact time when Gaffney’s career took off.
Gaffney reeled off six straight games with more than 100 yards. He had at least one touchdown in each of those six games — a total of 11 in all. All the while, Grossman solidified himself as the Gators’ starting quarterback.
In two years together at Florida, Gaffney had 14 games with more than 100 yards. So it’s no surprise that when Gaffney was traded to Washington in July, he was happy to be reunited with his former quarterback.
“I saw it from the first day I got here. . . . It’s like they just picked right up from college,” said wide receiver Donte Stallworth.
Gaffney admits to being surprised by the trade from Denver and said he didn’t know what awaited him in Washington.
“I remember the first day I saw him, he looked mad and angry,” said wide receiver Anthony Armstrong, “but he’d just got traded and was just trying to get to know people. But everybody was cool and we just flowed from there.”
Gaffney would become one of the most amiable guys in the locker room — competitive on the field and laid-back away from it, his teammates said.
“You could see that he’s a guy that is very comfortable in his own skin,” said Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan.
“He’s a simple dude,” Stallworth said. “He doesn’t really want for much.”
“He’s just cool,” Santana Moss said. “He just stays to himself.”
And Gaffney happens to be a good fit for Shanahan’s system. The Redskins’ version of the West Coast offense is built around timing and favors disciplined route runners. The center snaps the ball and after a step or three, the passer must fire a throw and hope the receiver hits his mark.
“You can always count on him to be in the right spot . . . you could throw with a blindfold on,” Grossman said, “because he’s going to be in that area.”
Said Shanahan: "He’s a pro running routes. . . . He’s been very consistent catching the ball and adjusting to our system and making some plays. I’m very pleased with him.”
Gaffney already is enjoying a career year on the stat sheet. With 842 yards, he’s 158 yards short of the first 1,000-yard season of his 10-year career and 33 yards shy of his single-season high. His 58 receptions are just seven short of his career best, set last season with the Broncos.
Other than center Will Montgomery, Gaffney has played more snaps than anyone else on offense. Moss works out of the slot and is still considered the team’s top receiver. He’s been targeted 33 times in the Redskins’ past four games, six more than Gaffney.
But Gaffney has three more catches and 57 more yards than Moss in those games. Moss figures all the receivers benefit from Gaffney’s presence on the field.
“It always eases your mind, knowing you won’t have too much attention,” Moss said.
Gaffney’s comfort in the offense could bode well for the Redskins’ future. He is under contract for 2012 — set to earn $2.65 million — and he and Moss are expected to return for at least one more year in Washington.
And certainly Gaffney doesn’t have to do much to gain Grossman’s trust. They know each other’s tendencies and communicate well in meeting rooms, in the huddle and on the field. They have shared points of reference that date back more than a decade.
“Whenever you understand each other on a personal level, you can work together so much easier,” Stallworth said.