Before he had finished his first quarter of a game in a Washington uniform 10 months ago Tuesday, Pierre Garçon had four receptions for 109 yards, including an 88-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
Trouble was that Garçon had injured a tendon in a toe in his right foot on the scoring grab. The foot wouldn’t be close to right again until Thanksgiving. The 6-foot, 210-pound receiver caught just seven passes for 49 yards in the nine games in between, missing six of them because the pain in his foot was too excruciating to play. All the questions about whether the Redskins had typically overpaid to lure Garçon from Indianapolis with a five-year, $42.5 million contract, nearly half of it guaranteed, remained unanswered.
But during the final six games, Garçon caught 33 passes for 475 yards and three touchdowns. The Redskins went 6-0 in those games to win their first NFC East title in 13 years. For the season, Washington was 7-0 when Garçon had as many 46 receiving yards, 3-6 when he didn’t.
“Pierre was huge,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “Whether Pierre was getting the ball or not, just the threat of having him out there opens up a lot of stuff. When you have a guy like that, a true No. 1 wide receiver, it makes all of your other wide receivers better.”
While Garçon adamantly declined to have delicate surgery on his toe, he took the advice of Washington’s medical staff and had an operation in March to repair a small tear in his right shoulder that he suffered during the playoff loss to Seattle. So Garçon spent spring drills catching passes on the side from quarterback Robert Griffin III, who was also recovering from offseason surgery.
“Pierre is going to be that guy for me, so I’ve got to make sure me and him are on the same page,” Griffin said. “He’s a big play receiver and he can do a lot of great things.”
Indeed, projecting Garçon’s totals for his seven relatively healthy games over a 16-game season would have produced 85 catches, 1,335 yards and nine touchdowns. In 2011, the best of his three seasons as a Colts starter after being picked in the sixth round of the 2008 draft out of Division III powerhouse Mount Union, Garçon’s numbers were 70 catches, 947 yards and six touchdowns.
“I’ve been waiting to let loose,” said Garçon, who’ll be 27 next month. “We started off the season right and then things happened. Things are going to happen; it’s how you respond to them. I was injured. I can’t say that was the real me [in 2012]. Last year I was learning the system. Now I know everything. It’s a lot easier. I wish I could have done more. That’s the competitor in me. But we won a lot of games and that made everything feel better.”
Despite Garçon, tight end Fred Davis (season-ending torn Achilles in Week 7) and No. 2 receiver Josh Morgan (played all year with since-removed screws in a leg) being absent or not their best selves for most of 2012, the Redskins ranked fourth in scoring and fifth in yards thanks to Rookie of the Year Griffin and record-setting rookie running back Alfred Morris.
Imagine how much better Washington’s offense can be with a healthy Garçon, Davis and Morgan in 2013. No wonder Shanahan can’t wait for training camp to start a week from today.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin