While the Redskins struggled to find a rhythm in their offense during the regular season opener, wide receiver DeSean Jackson eclipsed 100 yards receiving Monday vs. the Steelers.
In the Redskins' 2015 season opener against the Miami Dolphins, wide receiver DeSean Jackson was targeted just once, a deep ball down the right sideline in which he came up limping and hobbled to the sideline. He would miss the next six games with a hamstring strain, and it took a few more to feel like his dynamic self again.
After an offseason devoted to getting stronger, Jackson corrected last year's disappointing opener with a much stronger 2016 debut, offering a taste of what an entire season of health might be like in the Redskins' 38-16 loss to the Steelers Monday night.
The nine-year veteran hauled in six receptions for 102 yards and was targeted 10 times by quarterback Kirk Cousins, including a deep ball that likely would have been caught for a touchdown in the waning minutes if not for a 46-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Ross Cockrell.
"I felt good," Jackson said. "But I'm frustrated with the lost. It's the first game of the season and I think we have a lot to build off of."
Making up about a third of the Redskins' passing offense, Jackson began his night highlighting his speed on a crossing route on the team's second offensive snap of the game. Cousins found him open darting over the middle and Jackson, with one man to beat, peeled around him and bolted up the sideline for a 31-yard completion.
During the team's first play of the second quarter, Jackson, lined up to Cousins' left and found himself wide open again on a post route, offering a starter step to his left before crossing over to the right side of the field. Cousins found him a tad late but Jackson boxed out Steelers safety Mike Mitchell for 33 yards.
By halftime, Jackson had racked up 70 yards on three receptions, each of which achieved a first down.
"It's always good to start good and fast," Jackson said. "I would've rather had a win, but that's just something we can build off of. For next week we have Dallas at home, so we just have to redeem ourselves and win in front of our fans."
Jackson added a couple more catches – 9-yard and 11-yard stop routes down the sideline, respectively – that helped get the Redskins into field goal range. A 12-yard pass in the fourth quarter pushed him over the 100-yard receiving threshold, something he wasn't able to accomplish until Week 15 last season.
"D-Jaxx is always going to be a great player," tight end Jordan Reed said. "He's very explosive. We've just got to keep improving each week."
"I'm excited about the opportunity that presents itself and I think this year will be a special year for us," Jackson said. "When somebody offers you a tough game and a good opponent, we just have to figure out how to win these types of games and hopefully make it throughout the rest of the season and be able to redeem ourselves"
To do that, the Redskins will need a more balanced offensive attack, which means running the ball more efficiently and more often.
Both receivers and coaches didn't feel as though timing was an issue in the team's official debut – having only really played just a half of football together in the team's third preseason game – even as Cousins, who threw for 329 yards and two interceptions, struggled to find a rhythm for most of the night.
Head coach Jay Gruden admitted after the game that the blame in play-calling balance should fall on him, and believes the offense will find its footing when that occurs.
"You know we get a little bit too giddy sometimes with the weapons we have," Gruden said. "You look at Jordan [Reed], and Pierre [Garçon] and DeSean [Jackson], and Jamison [Crowder] and Ryan [Grant], Josh [Doctson] and Chris Thompson out of the backfield, you forget about the bread and butter of the team. It needs to be the running game. We got to make sure we stay balanced and I think that's my fault."