Pierre Garcon has faced the same questions for three months. He ran out of ways to explain his disappointment at missing six games this season. Every twinge and ache in his sprained right foot is of interest to media eager to know more about his status. This is not how he envisioned his first season as the Washington Redskins‘ top receiver.
But now Garcon is providing answers on the football field. His foot has regained some semblance of health, and with consecutive strong performances he has helped his team climb back into the NFC playoff race.
Validation has replaced Garcon’s frustration, and suddenly the Redskins‘ offense resembles the high-powered attack coaches Mike and Kyle Shanahan envisioned when they signed Garcon in March to a five-year contract that included $20.5 million guaranteed.
“I’m glad I can be a part of the team and help them win games or move the ball downfield or make plays for them,” Garcon said.
His return Nov. 18 from a four-game absence coincided with the genesis of the Redskins‘ three-game winning streak, which has them trailing division-leading New York by only one game entering the final quarter of the season.
Garcon’s presence has been a major boon. He had eight catches for 106 yards and the game-winning touchdown catch against the Giants on Monday night. And on Thanksgiving, he had four catches for 86 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown catch-and-run that will stand as one of the greatest plays of this Redskins season.
“Pierre does make a difference,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “He can make a 15-yard gain a 40-yard gain. Just the mentality he has when he catches the ball that he’s really trying to score every time he touches just makes a huge difference. When you make those plays after the catch that he does, it definitely opens up a lot of things.”
Garcon’s recent games are impressive in their own right, never mind the doubt that he would return to the field this season after sitting out with the foot injury he suffered in the season opener.
Redskins coaches coveted Garcon because of his explosiveness after the catch, his blocking ability in the running game and his tough mindset. When they witnessed those during training camp, excitement spread.
But then Garcon was hurt in the first quarter of the first game. It was such a tease.
“That’s why I think it was frustrating for all of us that he wasn’t able to do that,” Kyle Shanahan said. “He had a legit injury, and it took a while, but it was something we were waiting for. We weren’t sure if we were going to get it this year.”
Garcon is not fully healthy, and he continues to manage the pain is his foot daily. Not that it’s obvious from how explosive he has been in the past two games.
“I’ve just got to accept it and try to keep finding ways to ease the pain,” he said. “You feel a lot more painful in practice than you do in the game, but it’s good to be fully participating and getting things done. It’s still coming along. It’s still got a lot of work to do on the foot and rehab, and hopefully it will get better.”
That’s a scary proposition for opposing defenses. Garcon sure looked OK on his 35-yard catch-and-run at the end of the first half Monday, which set up a field goal. And his right foot appeared fine on his highlight-reel touchdown against Dallas, when he made a circus catch and then outran two Dallas defensive backs to the end zone.
“He can run,” coach Mike Shanahan said. “He can run after the catch, and that is what you are looking for. He is strong, very quick and he has the God-given ability to run through tackles.”
The most important element of Garcon’s return to form is his release off the line of scrimmage. The torn plantar plate in the bottom of his foot causes him pain when pushing off, but he is fighting through that.
“When he’s more confident he can come off the ball, he uses his speed,” Kyle Shanahan. “He’s more confident to break down at full speed. All year, he hasn’t really been able to come off the ball. He’s had to tempo himself to break down. When you’re a receiver and you can’t make every route look like a go route, it’s tough. It’s tough to separate like he’s used to.”
“I just go out there and try to play hard,” Garcon said. “I try to run hard whenever I get the ball. I try to block hard whenever I can. Just playing hard for the team. That’s just what I enjoy doing — going hard every play.”