- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In a season of ups and downs, there are three images from Monday night’s loss to the Panthers that symbolize the frustration of Redskins’ tight end Jordan Reed’s year.

One snapshot is of Reed lying on the turf, clearly hurting after being hit unexpectedly on the separated shoulder he injured against the Dallas Cowboys three weeks ago. Reed was blocking on a running play before Panthers safety Tre Boston popped him on the shoulder, dropping him to the ground. The next image is of Reed making his lone catch of the night, a six-yard grab that immediately resulted in the 26-year-old tossing the ball down in discomfort. The final image is of a fed-up Reed throwing a punch into the face mask of safety Kurt Coleman, then appearing to square up with linebacker Thomas Davis Sr.

Reed was immediately tossed from the game.

“He lost his cool. It happens, man,” offensive tackle Trent Williams said (Reed was not seen in the locker room following the game). “Football is an emotional sport.”

Monday’s misadventures were the latest lowlights in what has been a rollercoaster year for Reed, filled with amazing highs — he was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team Tuesday — and head-scratching lows, like Monday’s ejection.

The ride began in earnest on May 5, when Reed signed a five-year, $46.75 million contract extension that kicks in next season with $22 million guaranteed. Reed earned that deal after recording 952 receiving yards in just 14 games with the Redskins in the 2015 season. That set a Redskins’ single-season tight end record, passing Chris Cooley’s 849 yards in 2010.

Reed’s 87 receptions also set a team mark for tight ends.

The start of this season looked, initially, like a continuation of the prolific 2015 campaign that had earned him the big money. By Week 3, Reed already had 16 receptions for 190 yards. Week 4 featured a nine-reception effort for 73 yards and two touchdowns against the Cleveland Browns. In that game, Reed also became the fastest tight end in NFL history to record 200 career receptions, doing so in just 38 games.

Through Week 5, Reed was Kirk Cousins’ favorite target. Cousins threw to Reed 46 times, with the tight end hauling in 33 for 316 yards.

But with Week 5 came the return of nagging questions about the four-year veteran’s durability.

Against the Baltimore Ravens, Reed caught a pass in the third quarter and was hit in the back of the head. Reed immediately knew he was concussed, but hid the symptoms from team doctors. He experienced headaches throughout the remainder of the game, yet continued to play. It was at least the sixth known concussion Reed has suffered.

“I got to take care of my family, so I got to do what I got to do,” Reed said.

Reed is guaranteed $22 million from his contract regardless of whether he plays or not, but like all NFL players, he knows that his future earning power depends on his ability to stay on the field. One of the biggest reservations the Redskins had about offering Reed the new contract was whether the former Florida quarterback has the durability to survive in the middle of the field.

He missed the next two games — a win against the Philadelphia Eagles and a loss to the Detroit Lions — before emphatically returning against the Cincinnati Bengals in London, recording nine receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown.

Reed enjoyed two more productive games before a Thanksgiving Day effort against the Dallas Cowboys. In the second quarter, Reed went down hard on his shoulder in the corner of the end zone, briefly exiting the game. At that point during the game, Reed had just two catches for 15 yards. He would later return, adding eight receptions for 80 yards and two touchdowns.

In the locker room post game, Reed was seen getting help from his teammates just to take off his shirt. He had a Redskins’ staffer help him put a new one on, grimacing with every slight tug.

Later, coach Jay Gruden would reveal that Reed suffered his Grade-3 AC joint separation.

He sat out one game before being eased back into the lineup against the Eagles in Week 14. He was targeted just once, clearly still limited with his injury.

By the fateful Week 15 matchup against the Panthers, Reed was still noticeably not himself, and after appearing to be exasperated with his shoulder and the hits from the Panthers, he took himself out of the game with a single punch.

“I think some of his frustrations, he gave into his frustrations and he threw a punch and got ejected and cost us big time,” Gruden said. “Instead of second and goal at the nine, we got second and 25 at the 25. So I think he’s frustrated.”

The Redskins haven’t updated the status on Reed’s shoulder since, but Gruden said even an injured Reed makes could be a difference maker when the Redskins play the Bears in Chicago on Saturday.

“He’s such a factor …. even if he’s banged up a little bit, I think there’s some things that he can do in the passing game that can help us, so long as we have the spot available,” Gruden said Tuesday. “But if he did reinjure it — he went down a little bit yesterday — if he reinjured it and it’s holding him back quite a bit, then there could be thought to that. But right now the plan is to dress him and use him the best way we can.”

The Redskins’ playoff hopes are slim already, but they’re nonexistent with a loss on Saturday.

“I think he’s obviously has the makings and all the tools to be one of the best tight ends in the league, it’s just we’ve got to get him healthy,” Gruden said. “And hopefully with another week of rest and rehab, he’ll be stronger for Chicago.”

• Tommy Chalk can be reached at tchalk@washingtontimes.com.

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