- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

ATLANTA — NFL teams are always looking for Instant Impact from their more expensive free agents, but the reality is often quite different. It can take awhile — sometimes the better part of a season — for a player to get his cleats under him and begin making contributions commensurate with his income. (And occasionally, of course, it never happens at all. But why dredge up the Dana Stubblefield Horror?)

We saw both sides of it yesterday at the Georgia Dome, where the Redskins beat the Falcons, 33-31, to go to 2-0. On the winning team you had Laveranues Coles, who has quickly become the focal point of Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘n’ Gun; and on the losing team you had Peerless Price, who has looked anything but peerless in his first two games with Atlanta (and appears vastly overPriced, to boot).

There were plenty of plots and subplots in this back-and-forth game, but none that was more meaningful than this one. Coles followed a 106-yard effort in his Washington debut with a 180-yard display against the Falcons. Price, meanwhile, followed a two-catch, 30-yard day in the opener at Dallas with equally inconsequential two-catch, 28-yard performance versus the Redskins. And to think Dan Snyder looked Peerless over very closely before opting for Coles in the offseason meat market.

It’s hard to imagine a player making a better first impression than No.80 has. Has any receiver — outside of maybe Bobby Mitchell — ever begun his Redskins career with a bigger bang? But the stats, stunning as they are, only begin to tell the story. Coles has also shown himself to be a consummate team guy, one who’s quick to share the credit and seems oblivious to injury.

“The linebackers told me I’m part of their group now,” he said after absorbing an afternoon of hard knocks from Atlanta defenders. He was clearly as proud of that as of his 11 receptions, his 19-yard grab for the Redskins’ final score and the game ball Spurrier handed him afterward — and understandably so. After all, twice in the game he found himself lying on the Georgia Dome carpet, trying to clear his head after a particularly zealous hit. Both times he left the field … and both times he was back in the lineup before you knew it.

“I’m not a vocal leader,” he said. “I just want to lead by example — and never give up. If I can walk, I can play. That’s just how I feel.”

The game was almost lost before it was won. With 4:37 gone in the second quarter, the Falcons lined up for a 45-yard field goal that would have increased their lead to 20-0. Had the ball gone through, it might have been enough to send the Redskins into Full Panic Mode. But Jay Feely missed the kick to the left, and soon enough Ladell Betts was weaving 13 yards for a TD to make it 17-7. By halftime, the Falcons were on the run.

Spurrier termed Coles’ play “sensational.” Inspiring is another word for it. It’s so easy, when an athlete gets the Big Contract, for him to lose that edge, that hunger, that want-to. If anything, though, Laveranues appears to have kicked it up a notch. His reception and yardage totals against the Falcons were both career highs.

“He’s incredibly tough and incredibly special,” Patrick Ramsey gushed. “He finds a way to get open, and then he does the most with it. Just a tenacious guy.”

It’s amazing how quickly he and Coles have developed a rapport. They look like they’ve been playing catch since their Pop Warner days. Ramsey attributes it to all the throwing he and the receivers do in the offseason and in training camp — “probably more than most teams.” Laveranues, an alleged 5-11, is certainly no giant out there, but Patrick never seems to have trouble finding him.

What’s truly scary is how young the components in the passing game are. Ramsey is in his second season, Gardner in his third, Coles — the old man — in his fourth. Barring salary cap complications, they could be together for the better part of their careers. That’s rare nowadays. Look at what happened in Buffalo; the Bills had to choose between Price and Eric Moulds, and Price wound up being traded to the Falcons.

The early returns haven’t been good for the Peerless one. Yesterday he was stifled by Champ Bailey, the Redskins’ All-Pro cornerback, who shadowed him from pregame warmups to final whistle. “Last week, [judging] from the films, it seemed like they didn’t do enough to try to get him the ball,” Bailey said. “This week, it didn’t matter what they did because I was on him.”

Coles felt Price’s pain — that is, when he wasn’t feeling his own. “There’s a lot of pressure [on high-profile free agents] — not just media [attention] but expectations,” he said. “I can imagine what he’s going through over there. But trust me, [Prices struggles have] nothing to do with his ability. He’s an excellent receiver. It’s just that sometimes the grass is greener, and sometimes it ain’t. My heart goes out to him.”

Certainly Price might have gotten off to a better start if Michael Vick hadn’t gone down with a broken leg. But it’s doubtful he’d be doing the damage Coles is. As Bailey pointed out, “He’s their best receiver by far” — which just makes it easier for defenses to gang up on him. Who else did the Redskins have to worry about yesterday — especially with Brian Finneran, the Falcons’ No. 2 wideout, sidelined? (That was a rhetorical question, in case you were wondering.)

The grass definitely appears to be greener for Coles, though. Sixteen catches and 286 yards in two games — are you kiddin’ me? A couple of more weeks like that, and they’ll be calling him King Coles.

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