- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

ASHBURN — Without DeSean Jackson or Jordan Reed, Jamison Crowder proved to be the Washington Redskins’ best wide receiver in a 25-19 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

The rookie secured all eight of his targets for a team-high 87 yards, with perhaps none bigger than his seven-yard snag with 10 seconds remaining in regulation. Crowder ran a short out route toward the left sideline and scampered past Atlanta cornerback Phillip Adams to get out of bounds and stop the clock with five seconds left, setting up Dustin Hopkins’ 52-yard tying field goal.

In overtime, Crowder caught a pass toward the right sideline for a 17-yard gain. He fumbled the ball after he caught it, but it rolled safely out of bounds, moving the Redskins to their own 48-yard line. Two plays later, Kirk Cousins’ pass was intercepted and returned for a game-winning touchdown. Before that, Crowder’s catch had the offense moving in the right direction.

Crowder, drafted in the fourth round out of Duke, has been a pleasant surprise for the Redskins this season. The speedy wide receiver was ticketed as the team’s starting punt returner, but in Week 3, he emerged as a valuable slot option. Since that game against the New York Giants, Crowder has caught 21 passes for 197 yards, an average of 9.38 yards per catch.

The Redskins hope that Jackson, who strained his left hamstring in the opener, will rejoin the team for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. There is also the possibility that Reed recovers from a concussion in time for the game, too.

Though it is not clear when exactly Jackson and Reed will return to the field, the question remains the same: How will Crowder factor into the passing attack once the rest of the options are fully healthy?

“When Jordan comes back and when DeSean comes back, how that’s going to affect his numbers, we don’t know yet,” coach Jay Gruden said on Monday. “It could be a little bit, it could be not much at all. It’ll be a good problem to have.”

Indeed, a team can never have too many options — and the Redskins hope to have them sooner rather than later.

Gruden said that Jackson, who was limited in practice twice last week, will start to see a heavier workload. Gruden also said that Reed, who sustained a concussion in the final minute of the team’s 23-20 win against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4, has improved, though he is still undergoing independent testing.

When the Redskins lost Jackson, they lost their deep threat. They have adjusted the passing game to find success without being able to truly stretch the field.

The Redskins have relied primarily on Garcon and Reed, utilizing short to mid-distance routes to move the chains. In Garcon’s case, it’s meant sacrificing his body and going to dangerous areas, like he did when he caught the game-winning touchdown reception against Philadelphia and was crunched between two Eagles defenders. He has a team-high 27 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns.

Before Reed sustained a concussion, he was Cousins’ most valuable asset on third down, catching nine passes for 95 yards — eight of which resulted in a first down.

Of Reed’s 24 catches, the second-most on the team behind Garcon, 18 have resulted in a first down. The Redskins used him all over the field to create favorable matchups, whether it be out wide or in the slot, or closer to the ball in multiple-tight end sets.

It was obvious the Redskins were going to rely on Garcon and Reed after Jackson was injured. Though Ryan Grant was the de facto replacement for Jackson on the depth chart, Crowder has been the one who has helped the Redskins (2-3) bridge the gap until Jackson returns.

Veteran receiver Andre Roberts struggled with dropped passes in Week 3 against the Giants and was inactive the following week against Philadelphia. Crowder caught seven passes for 65 yards.

The following week, Gruden confirmed Crowder had surpassed Roberts as the team’s starting slot receiver and praised his progress.

“We had a penciled-in punt returner job for him, but for him to win the starting inside slot receiver is a testament to him and how quickly he picked it up and his production,” Gruden said.

The Redskins’ passing attack has also been aided by the emergence of third-down running back Chris Thompson, who’s hauled in 17 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. His 17 receptions rank fourth on the team behind Garcon, Reed and Crowder. The 5-foot-8 back has been a versatile option, catching passes both out of the backfield and split wide to a single side in four-receiver sets.

On Sunday, the Redskins didn’t have the luxury of relying on Reed — or Garcon, for that matter, who caught three of eight passes for 51 yards.

The Redskins went to Crowder with the game on the line and the rookie delivered. At this point, he may need to remain part of the game plan when Jackson and Reed return.

• Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@washingtontimes.com.

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