The Wideouts Are Catching Up

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 19, 2007

IRVING, Tex., Nov. 18 -- The Washington Redskins entered Sunday's game with as battered a wide receiving corps as any in the NFL. The starters -- Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El -- were nursing injuries, with Moss's sore heel having forced him on to the inactive list last week. None of the reserves -- a group that included Keenan McCardell, Reche Caldwell and Jimmy Farris -- had been with the team two months ago.

The result? Twenty-one catches, easily a season high. Those catches went for 250 yards, also a season high, and were the most by a group of Redskins wide receivers since the third game of Joe Gibbs's second tenure.

Such accomplishments were, of course, overshadowed by Washington's 28-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. But as players were left to ponder what went wrong in the team's second consecutive division loss, the wide receivers quietly acknowledged that at least one thing had gone right.

"It's just one of those things: we knew we had to do it," said McCardell, who had five catches for 76 yards, his best total in nearly two years. "We understand that we were banged up during the week, but everybody took their shots today. We really felt like, as a group, we were going to have to make our plays. And we did. It wasn't enough, but we made them. We really realize that today we grew as a group and as a unit on offense."

Over the past several weeks, the team's top four receivers from the preseason had all suffered from various levels of injury. Brandon Lloyd's disastrous season came to a close last week when he broke his collarbone in practice. James Thrash, the leading receiver against the Eagles a week ago, was on the inactive list with a high ankle sprain. Randle El has played through a hamstring injury for weeks, although he has yet to miss a game.

Most significantly, Moss has been bothered by groin and heel injuries. The former cost him an early-season game, and the latter limited him during the past week of practice.

But despite having few chances to work with quarterback Jason Campbell in recent days, Moss turned in what was easily his best performance of the year against the Cowboys. He hauled in a fade from Campbell with one hand late in the third quarter, brilliantly securing the ball without the use of his left hand.

"He's such a playmaker," Campbell said. "Once he got into the flow of the game, he as in a groove."

And Moss made the Cowboys sweat out the ending with a five-yard touchdown catch, his first of the season, late in the game. Over the previous four seasons, he had caught 30 touchdown passes. His nine catches Sunday were his most in more than two years, and he went over 100 yards for this first time this season.

"Every week we get to do more and more of the stuff we want to do as an offense," Moss said, referring to the team's increasing use of passing formations featuring three and four receivers. "That's what Jason likes, that's what we like. . . . I think we're moving in the right direction. It's hard to say that when you don't have no wins, that you're moving in the right direction. But I feel like as a team together as a whole, dealing with the stuff that we have dealt with this year, we're moving in the right direction."

Moss also nearly caught what would have been a go-ahead touchdown in the final two minutes, finding some breathing room on a post pattern in the end zone that Campbell narrowly overthrew.

" I don't know what happened. I went for the ball, and the ball wasn't there," Moss said. "Inches away. That's the game, that's the game. It's plays like that that separate us from being almost 8-1, right now 9-1. . . . All I can say is it's always coulda shoulda, but we've just got to go out there and do it."

Moss said his heel was not 100 percent, although he said it was more a feeling of soreness than pain.

"I felt that the more opportunities I get, the more I have a chance to be myself a little bit," he said. "I know I'm not going to be quite myself. But 80 percent of me is good. It makes the guys out there with me better."

The wide receivers will have a stiff challenge next week against a Tampa Bay defense that was ranked third against the pass entering this week. The nagging injuries aren't likely to disappear over the next seven days, but McCardell said the unit must continue to be involved in the offense.

"We just want our chances to help the team win," he said. "I think we got 'em; we just didn't make enough. We understand that. Got to go back to the drawing board, and we'll make some more plays."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company