From Large Playbook, a Receiving Octopus

Antwaan Randle El scores his first touchdown of the year on a 23-yard play down the left side of the sideline in the second quarter. Quarterback Mark Brunell divvied up his passes, connecting with eight Redskins receivers.
Antwaan Randle El scores his first touchdown of the year on a 23-yard play down the left side of the sideline in the second quarter. Quarterback Mark Brunell divvied up his passes, connecting with eight Redskins receivers. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 25, 2006

HOUSTON, Sept. 24 -- During the offseason and training camp, when spirits were high and the Washington Redskins appeared on paper to be overloaded with weapons, Al Saunders heard one question over and over: How could a team with so many wide receiving threats and only one ball keep Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El, Brandon Lloyd and David Patten happy?

The answer, at least for one afternoon, was in the distribution pattern of quarterback Mark Brunell, who threw to eight receivers.

Moss caught six passes for 50 yards, Randle El three for 34 yards including a 23-yard touchdown pass, and Lloyd -- who had been shut out in the opener and was a non-factor last week against Dallas -- caught two passes for 20 yards.

And Patten, who opened last season starting beside Moss but is fourth on the depth chart behind Moss, Lloyd and Randle El, also caught a key pass in the first half.

If there was a hierarchy among the receivers, it appeared that Saunders's offensive plan was to find creative ways to put the ball in the hands of Moss. In the first half, Brunell looked for Moss on short screens and slants.

"I don't care if it's down the field or not. As long as there's an opportunity to get the ball in your hands, it's our duty to do the rest," Moss said. "Just give me a chance and the rest is up to me. That's my game. That's something Coach Saunders has been emphasizing since Day One, that if we put the ball in skilled players' hands, we're going to make those first downs."

The plays were reminiscent of the opener, when Moss caught passes behind the line of scrimmage that counted as run plays.

As the Redskins leaned on the short passing game, Brunell then looked to Randle El, who scored his first touchdown with the Redskins. On third and four from the 23, Randle El took a quick screen from Brunell and danced down the left side of the sideline, making two cuts after a big block from left guard Derrick Dockery.

Since the arrival of Lloyd and Randle El, Patten has had to fight to avoid being the forgotten man on the staff. At one point during the season, Coach Joe Gibbs called Patten to assure him that, despite the high-profile signings, he would be allowed to compete for playing time. Patten, who a year earlier was brought to Washington as a big-name signing in the same manner as Randle El and Lloyd this season, did not have a reception in the first two games.

But in the first half he made his first big play of the season. With the Redskins in their two-minute offense leading 14-7 but having drives stalled by costly penalties, Patten hauled in a 25-yard pass on third and nine from the Redskins 41 with 23 seconds left in the half. That put the Redskins in field goal range and set up a 30-yard touchdown run by Clinton Portis.

"If you're a receiver in this league, you expect receivers to make that play," Patten said. "It doesn't matter if you're getting 10 plays or 50 plays. When your number is called, and you have the opportunity to make a play, you make it."


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