- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

At the end of the first quarter in Cleveland on Oct.3, Rod Gardner was excited about Washington’s offense under new coach Joe Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl champion with a proven scheme.

Gardner, Washington’s top draft pick in 2001, was the target of Mark Brunell’s first three passes and led the Redskins with 61 receiving yards in the opener. Gardner caught a 51-yard pass the next week, then enjoyed a career night against Dallas with 10 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

And Gardner was a key factor during a 13-play, 65-yard march that gave the Redskins a 3-0 lead over the Browns. But Gardner suddenly disappeared from the offense. He didn’t see another pass come his way until just 2:15 remained.

Gardner, who had 20 catches for 298 yards through that opening quarter in Week 4, has just 13 catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns since. After failing to catch a pass for the first time in his career Nov.7 in Detroit, Gardner hauled in just one of the four balls thrown his way Sunday in Pittsburgh — none after halftime. Two of the passes he didn’t grab were catchable.

“I want more balls,” Gardner said. “Who doesn’t? But it’s been a struggle all the way around for our offense. I’ve never been bitter about anything, but it is frustrating. I thought the way Coach was throwing at me through that second series in the Browns game, this offense was going to help me. I don’t know what happened after that.”

Gibbs, while expressing disappointment in the number of drops against the Steelers, declined to specifically criticize Gardner, whom teammates used to call “50-50” for his success rate at catching passes.

“It’s tough when you’re not getting hooked up, period,” said Gibbs, whose passing attack is the NFL’s third worst and whose offense ranks 26th. “I would like for all of us to be having great years. We really haven’t been getting it done as a group. [Gardner’s poor season] is a product of how we’re all doing.”

Yes and no. While fellow wideout Laveranues Coles — despite Washington’s lousy offense and his own bumps and bruises — is on pace to top the 82 catches he had during his Pro Bowl season in 2003, Gardner’s 33 project to just 48, nine fewer than he had last season and a whopping 23 fewer than when he was the No.1 receiver in 2002. And eight NFL tight ends have more yards than Gardner’s 447.

Gardner, who has had a drop in eight of 11 games, was the target of 35 passes through those productive first 13 quarters. In the 31 quarters since, the 27-year-old Clemson product has had just 43 balls thrown his way.

With Patrick Ramsey having replaced Mark Brunell at quarterback, Washington rallied against Cincinnati on Nov.14, but not one of Ramsey’s 15 passes on the two late scoring drives was intended for Gardner.

“You don’t want to drop balls, but it happens,” Gardner said. “Laveranues has had his share of drops. I’ve had mine. The best receivers drop a pass, they walk back to the huddle smiling because they know that the next two series they’re getting another five thrown at them. They don’t have to worry about one drop. I might just get one or two opportunities, so when the play’s called, you put a little more pressure on yourself. If you make a mistake, it’s rough.”

Notes — Mark Wilson’s sprained knee didn’t come to light until he reported for work Monday. The rookie offensive tackle likely won’t practice today. Coles said his bruised hip won’t keep him from the field, but defensive tackle Jermaine Haley, who sat out Sunday’s game with a sprained knee similar to Wilson’s, was sore after an extensive indoor workout yesterday. …

The MRI of LaVar Arrington’s knee showed healing, but a bone bruise is still evident. Director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer said the linebacker is still “week-to-week.” …

The Redskins re-signed offensive lineman Ben Nowland to their practice squad. Nowland, who was on the squad the first two weeks before being waived, replaces defensive lineman Ryan Boschetti, who was promoted to the active roster last week.

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