Most of the attention regarding Vernon Davis came from his touchdown celebration, but his performance in the absence of Jordan Reed was a quiet reason for Washington's win over Philadelphia.
Excuse Vernon Davis for the unsportsmanlike penalty following his touchdown reception in Sunday's win over the Philadelphia Eagles. It had been awhile.
So long, in fact, that his signature celebration was no longer allowed by the NFL. When Davis caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to put the Redskins up 14-0, he leaned back and imitated a basketball jump shot, shooting the football through the goal posts. A flag flew immediately. Davis ignored it and celebrated with his teammates. For the first time since Sept. 7, 2014, he had caught a touchdown pass.
"It was very nice to get back in the end zone," Davis said. "Kirk called my number. It was a route we've been working on all week and it was designed to bend right between the Cover 2. It was wide open, and it worked. It worked in our favor."
Unfortunately, by shooting the ball over the goal post, Davis was "using the ball and the goal post as a prop," according to a video published Sunday night to Twitter by NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating, Dean Blandino.
"You can't dunk the ball over the goalpost, you can't shoot the ball, finger roll, all of that is illegal," Blandino continued. "Using the football and the goal post – 15-yard penalty. It's enforced on the kickoff, so Washington kicked off from their own 20."
The penalty impacted the game and hurt Washington immediately. Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins, who typically clears the end zone with ease for a touchback when kicking off from the 35-yard line, had his ensuing kickoff returned 86 yards for a touchdown by Wendell Smallwood to get Philadelphia on the board.
"I'm not going to blame Vernon for that returning kickoff touchdown but you know – and really he would never do anything that would jeopardize a 15-yard penalty," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "He didn't know. I showed all of the videos of illegal celebrations the other day and shooting a basketball through the goal post wasn't one of them."
Davis remembered that exact conversation, but still owned up to the mistake.
"Coach addressed it in a meeting a few weeks ago and that was one of the areas he didn't touch," Davis said. "He talked about dunking it and he told us you can get a penalty, but we didn't address the shooting. I wanted to ask him that but in the back of my mind I'm like, 'Oh, I've been shooting the ball and I've never gotten a penalty. I think I'll be OK.' But of course, it didn't go that way.
"Now I get it. I get the point. That will never happen again. Ever."
The Redskins certainly tolerated the penalty, which many disagreed with – Cousins hardly celebrated the touchdown and instead pleaded with the flag-throwing official – because Davis stepped up when Washington needed him most. With Jordan Reed out due to a concussion, Davis was on the field for 72 of the Redskins' 74 offensive snaps Sunday. Although he had just two catches, both were vital to the outcome of the game. Apart from the touchdown, a 37-yard reception down the left sideline in the fourth quarter highlighted Washington's drive to a 50-yard Hopkins field goal to put the game out of reach.
"Once I heard that Jordan wouldn't be playing and my role would increase, I didn't really have to change much," 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 that your stamina is there. You want to put in the extra work early on in that week and just know your assignments."
However, most people were ready to discuss Davis's celebration after the game, which the 11-year veteran understood. He was just as puzzled as those at FedExField or watching at home, but he was able to take it in stride.
"I was doing that when I was in San Francisco and now all of a sudden it's a penalty," Davis said with his often seen huge smile. "Hey, where'd that come from guys?"
And if you were wondering if the shot felt good coming out of his hand?
"It was a great shot," Davis declared.