Every word from Brandon Meriweather sounded like a celebration.
“What’s up, family?” Meriweather said, between haranguing teammates for a T-shirt and lotion.
He grinned at the bright television lights and tape recorders thrust toward his locker. He walked without a limp, ice packs, a brace or concern.
Eleven weeks into the season, the free safety signed to a two-year, $6 million contract to shore up the Washington Redskins’ defensive backfield finally made his debut. The bothersome strained ligaments in his left knee couldn’t keep him from the field any longer. And Meriweather’s contribution to a reeling defense was immediate in Sunday’s 31-6 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at FedEx Field.
“He gives us a lot of energy back there, and you can see what type of football player he is,” coach Mike Shanahan said.
Wide receiver Pierre Garcon, hobbled by a plantar tear in his right foot since early in the season, returned, too, as the Redskins started to get recover from an injury-ravaged stretch.
While Garcon’s impact was minimal — three catches and a quick trip to the training room when the locker room opened to media postgame — Meriweather didn’t look like a typical Redskins defensive back. Instead, he intercepted hapless Eagles quarterback Nick Foles to kill a drive in Redskins territory in the first quarter to continue and build his reputation as a player regularly in position to make plays on the football. The play remained a pleasant blur to Meriweather, unable to recall the defense or his read. He just reacted. Seven tackles came along, too, before a right knee sprain forced Meriweather to depart in the second half. He didn’t return.
Meriweather downplayed the injury. After all, he could run and cut without problems on his problematic left knee, reinjured during a freak pregame collision with teammate Aldrick Robinson in September in Tampa, Fla. Meriweather’s jovial tone extended to his other, previously-healthy knee.
“I ain’t hurt,” he said. “[Leaving] was more me thinking about the future rather than me going back in there when we were already up by so much.”
Shanahan offered a more sedate assessment, expecting to know more Monday or Tuesday: “We’re keeping our fingers crossed it’s nothing serious.”
Meriweather’s sort of play hasn’t been typical of Redskins’ defensive backs this season, on a defense that entered Sunday allowing its most points per game since 1963. Crooked numbers pop up anywhere you look, from ranking 30th in the NFL against the pass to surrendering 32 plays of 30 yards or more.
Enter Meriweather to prey on the Eagles’ beat-up offensive line and rookie quarterback as the Redskins held them to 257 yards and, of course, no touchdowns. This is the closest the Redskins will get to the defensive backfield envisioned during the offseason, with safety Tanard Jackson suspended for the season.
“He brought a lot of energy,” cornerback DeAngelo Hall said of Meriweather. “He brought a lot of intensity, seeing things a little differently than somebody else might have. I loved it.”
Added Meriweather: “We realized that everything falls on us, so we played like it.”
Garcon, in his first game since Oct. 7, didn’t play the same role. Signed to a five-year, $42.5 million contract during the offseason to provide a deep threat, he hasn’t been his speedy self since an 88-yard touchdown catch in the opener against the New Orleans Saints. He isn’t close to full health, but caught each of the three passes intended for him. The simple sight of the veteran on the field for a handful of plays encouraged Griffin.