In just eight plays for the Washington Redskins, wide receiver Pierre Garcon showed his big-play ability and the way he could give the team’s long-anemic offense a spark.
But on the touchdown — an 88-yard pass play on which Garcon caught the ball 16 yards downfield and raced 72 more to the end zone — he injured his right foot and hasn’t played since.
Garcon, who was signed in the spring to a five-year, $42.5 million contract, hopes to return Sunday.
But the turf-toe-like strain continued to limit him in Thursday’s practice, and his availability remains uncertain.
Usually, the absence of a top receiving threat would signal doom for the Redskins. Last season, Washington was 3-2 when leading wideout Santana Moss was hurt in Week 7 against Carolina. The Redskins lost that game and the next four before they ended the skid in Moss's return with a win over Seattle.
They never fully regrouped, in part because another important receiver, tight end Fred Davis, was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy two weeks later.
Things appear to have changed this season. Despite Garcon’s absence, the Redskins are still scoring points in bunches.
After three games, Washington ranks first in the NFL in scoring, averaging 33 points an outing, and is sixth in total offense at 404.3 yards per game.
It’s a drastic improvement over last season, when Washington ranked 16th in total offense (336.7 ypg) and 26th in scoring (18.0 ppg). The 99 points Washington has scored are the biggest three-game total of Coach Mike Shanahan’s tenure, and the most by the Redskins since 2005.
“Since Shanahan took over, you can see where this team has grown,” fullback Darrel Young said. “In 2010, Santana goes down, and it was, ‘Where do we go from here?’ And even last year, he went down and didn’t come back till the Seattle game, was out four weeks and we just started a losing streak and didn’t do any of the things we did prior to that, in the first quarter of the season. This year, it’s just different.”
The Redskins’ goal this offseason was to upgrade the offense. Griffin was the biggest piece of the puzzle, but Washington also sought to improve its talent and depth at the receiver and running back positions.
That would give Griffin support, so opposing teams wouldn’t be able to key on only one player and would allow the Redskins to better absorb injuries.
An improved rushing attack that has boosted Washington to second in the league, with 180.7 yards per game, has helped soften the blow of Garcon’s absence. In the passing game, multiple players have shouldered the load.
In Week 1, second-year wideout Aldrick Robinson recorded a touchdown and four catches for 52 yards after Garcon left. In Week 2, wide receiver Leonard Hankerson scored on a 68-yard bomb after lining up at Garcon’s usual spot. Last week against Cincinnati, Davis led Washington in receiving with seven catches for 90 yards.
“I think we’ve got a lot of guys who have been making plays,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “Any time you can run the ball like we’ve been doing, where you can hand it off a lot . . . it opens up the offense a lot in other areas. You’ve got a lot of guys who are making plays, and you don’t have to depend on one guy.”
But the Redskins’ offense has come up short the last two weeks despite having the ball in the closing minutes of play for what could have been winning drives. And the team ranks 31st in the NFL on third-down conversions, earning first downs on just 27.5 percent of its attempts.
In the first half of a loss to Cincinnati, the Redskins struggled to make plays downfield. It wasn’t until they went with a run-heavy attack in the third quarter that opportunities began to present themselves in the passing game.
“When we watch film, there's still a lot of stuff we leave out there,” Davis said last week.
The Redskins believe that Garcon’s return will help cure some of those ills. Running back Evan Royster said Washington hasn’t been able to score as quickly with Garcon sidelined.
Shanahan said Garcon’s return would help as well as create opportunities in other areas.
“It [opens the playbook up] a ton. Pierre is a very talented guy, as everybody knows,” Shanahan said. “He’s only played eight plays this year and still had over 100 yards, so you guys can see what a difference he can make on the field.”