LANDOVER — Vernon Davis watched the video clips and a thought crossed his mind: I wonder if “shooting” a football is allowed?
He learned the answer a few weeks after a team meeting where Redskins coach Jay Gruden showed his players clips of what the NFL considers a penalty for excessive celebration.
It was a hard lesson for Davis, who caught a touchdown pass in Sunday’s 27-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and then shot the football like a basketball. His jumper was pure. His intentions were not, according to the referee.
A 15-yard penalty assessed on the subsequent kickoff led to a short kickoff from Dustin Hopkins and an 86-yard touchdown return by Wendell Smallwood. Gruden refused to blame Davis for that mishap. If his special-team unit had made a tackle the penalty wouldn’t have mattered much. Still – it was a bad look.
“[Gruden] told us about ‘dunking’ [the football] and told us we could get a penalty,” Davis said. “But we didn’t address the shooting. I wanted to ask him that, but in my mind I was like ‘Oh, I’ve been doing it. I’ve been shooting the ball and never gotten a penalty. I’ll be okay.’ But, of course…”
Gruden was equally flummoxed.
“[Davis didn’t know]. I showed all the videos of illegal celebrations the other day,” Gruden said. “And shooting a basketball through the goal post wasn’t one of them. I don’t consider the ball as a prop on that one. I might have done the same thing. But now we know and he won’t ever do it again.”
That penalty overshadowed a nice day for Davis, the former San Francisco 49ers star who is trying to show he still has the magic touch at age 32. Davis saw more snaps in place of the injured Jordan Reed (concussion). He caught two passes for 50 yards. But both made an impact. The touchdown catch was a pattern meant to take advantage of a Tampa-2 zone coverage and Davis was wide open in the end zone. That made it 14-0 and led to the excessive celebration penalty.
The second catch early in the fourth quarter went for 37 yards on a wheel route down the left side. Davis got behind the Philadelphia defense on a 1st-and-10 play from the Washington 23. That was the big play in a drive that ended with a Dustin Hopkins 50-yard field goal and a 27-17 Washington lead with just under 10 minutes to play.
It was the best day so far and, really, the reason the Redskins brought Davis in. Reed has been susceptible to injury in his career with five documented concussions and a host of other ailments. Last year, Washington’s decimated tight end room didn’t have the depth to compensate with Logan Paulsen and Niles Paul both lost for the season in training camp.
There was some question if Davis still had anything left in the tank after he was traded by the 49ers to Denver last year. After a quick start with the Broncos he was a non-factor during their Super Bowl run. The Redskins had lower expectations after signing Davis. But so far he’s contributed 12 catches for 144 yards and had his best game of the season on Sunday. Not bad for a second tight end and exactly what they’d hoped to get from the Maryland grad and D.C. native.
“I didn’t really have to change much with Jordan out,” Davis said. “I just kept plugging away and approaching the game like I’ve been approaching it since I’ve been here. When it comes to playing an entire game you just want to make sure your stamina is there. Put in the extra work early on in the week and just know your assignments.”
Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter