By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2007
TAMPA, Nov. 25 -- Keenan McCardell was dressing a few doors down from the locker room he used to occupy Sunday afternoons; "We're better than that," he muttered to himself after the Washington Redskins' 19-13 loss to the Buccaneers.
A few minutes later, McCardell chatted with a familiar security guard, this time as a visiting player getting ready to leave Raymond James Stadium. Down the hall, former teammate Ronde Barber talked about facing McCardell again after seeing him hundreds of times in practice.
"He is still the shiftiest guy I've ever had to cover," Barber said.
There were plenty of nostalgic moments for the Redskins wide receiver Sunday, when he played his first regular season game in this city since leaving the franchise after the 2003 season. His performance brought back memories of his two years in Tampa Bay, which included a Super Bowl triumph, a trip to the Pro Bowl and a messy contract dispute before an eventual trade to the San Diego Chargers.
McCardell had six catches for 60 yards Sunday, becoming quarterback Jason Campbell's preferred target in the second half after a forgettable first half in which McCardell caught one pass for five yards and the offense sputtered.
"Just being a little bit too motivated to play your old team," McCardell said of his slow start. "Probably in the first half I was a little jacked up, a little too jacked, but I settled down and just played football. I spent a [good] amount of my time here, won a Super Bowl here, enjoy the fans here. And I came here really, really amped up."
But as the receiving corps' medical complaints continued to mount Sunday, McCardell took on a greater role. Antwaan Randle El missed most of the loss with a persistent hamstring problem, and James Thrash was inactive with a high ankle sprain, leaving the team without three of its top four opening day wide receivers. The fourth, Santana Moss, took only a few snaps during the previous week of practice and showed the rust, with a fumble and a false start on the team's first two plays from scrimmage.
So Washington turned to McCardell, whose six catches were a season high. His showing was complemented by fellow veteran Reche Caldwell, who hadn't seen the field in six of his first nine weeks with the team, and had yet to catch a ball before Sunday. In the second half, the veteran duo combined to catch nine balls for 92 yards. Five of those catches came on third downs, and eight went for first downs.
"You're talking about two guys who are very capable of getting it done; they just got the opportunity today," running back Ladell Betts said. "They came up huge for us today."
Caldwell, who made a fine leaping catch just before Campbell's first interception, admitted to some disappointment as the weeks went by and his number wasn't called.
"Definitely it's been frustrating; you're used to playing every week, and now you don't play, and sometimes you don't dress," he said. "I've just been waiting for an opportunity to go out there and show what I can do, and hopefully I did enough to keep playing."
McCardell, who was signed in early October, three weeks after Caldwell, has become a steadily more important part of the offense as its injury list has grown. As the Redskins attempted to rally Sunday, McCardell repeatedly slipped into holes in Tampa Bay's zone or found open space near the sidelines.
"He's just hard to deal with; I mean, he still has it," Barber said. "He understands how to make defensive backs move and find ways to get open. He's just really good at it. He thinks he's open every single snap, and it's hard to argue with him."
None of which was any consolation to McCardell, who spent the moments after the game defending Campbell's play and arguing that the receiving corps needs to do more for its quarterback.
"Somebody's just got to step up and make a play so we can finish," he said. "That's just what it is. You've just got to say, 'Hey, I'm gonna be the guy that make that play.' . . . "As a group of wide receivers and tight ends and backs, we've just got to make some more plays."