Josh Doctson's big play reveals his potential, builds trust with Kirk Cousins

SEATTLE -- As the ball started to drop from the sky, Washington Redskins receiver Josh Doctson started to separate. Nudged, perhaps, by fate. The last time Doctson had placed himself in position to make a big play -- last month against Kansas City -- he twisted, grabbed the ball and then, trying to brace himself as he hit the ground, had it squirt free.

A possible game-winning touchdown in a hostile environment turned into a frustrating finish.

So here came Doctson again, in the toughest place to play, with another chance to be a hero. He dove for the ball, secured it with both hands and skidded inside the Seattle 1-yard line. Doctson didn’t score, but he did come through in Washington’s 17-14 upset over the Seahawks on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

“He’s a first-round guy; that’s a first-round catch,” Redskins corner Josh Norman said. “He said he was going to do that; he told one of the guys on the sideline he was going to do that.”

Doctson finished with three catches for 59 yards; not spectacular numbers, but that’s not where he’s at in his career. The Redskins think of him almost like a rookie, considering he not only missed 14 games last season, but almost an entire year of practice time because of his Achilles issues. There’s plenty to learn.

But what they do know is that Doctson can do damage deep. He scored on a 52-yard catch earlier this season in which he reached over a defender, grabbed the ball and ran into the end zone. Give him a chance; he can make plays, they told quarterback Kirk Cousins. Last week, Doctson made a similar dive and couldn’t secure the ball in a loss to Dallas. This time, he could.

Teammates have raved for a while about the sort of catches he makes in practice. That’s why they knew it was just a matter of time.

“Lo and behold, it seems like him and those deep balls ...,” Norman said. “He’s always there for that. The Lord granted him a second opportunity. He saw the thing in the air, and it looked like the angels pushed him forward a little bit. That man speeded up. He has another gear to him.”

In the loss to Kansas City, Cousins showed that he trusted Doctson enough to target him on a crucial third down in the end zone. Cousins went back to him at another clutch time. Cousins said that when they got to the line and saw that Seattle was in man coverage on the outside, he audibled to the deep ball. That’s what head coach Jay Gruden told him to do against that look. For much of the game, the Redskins couldn’t give Cousins enough time to make such a throw; they did on this play.

“I gave him a hand signal and he took off,” Cousins said. “I put it out there pretty far, and he went and got it and showed why he has a lot of potential.”

Doctson didn’t want to discuss much about the play or much else.

“It was great blocking by the O-line,” he said. “Great pass by Kirk. I just had to finish it.”

On coming through: “It felt really good.”

On nearly scoring: “I was just worried about making the catch.”

The 2016 first-round pick has had a frustrating start to his career. But moments like that show why Washington drafted him. Perhaps if the Redskins were healthier, Cousins wouldn’t have looked to him. But tight end Jordan Reed and receiver Jamison Crowder didn’t play. And tight end Vernon Davis was out on the last drive because of a bruised right hand that, after the game, looked like it had a small hill on top of it because of the swelling.

That meant Cousins needed someone else. Doctson still is learning the game at the NFL level, which means seeing what he must do to create separation. But it’s also about trying to develop a trust with Cousins. Earlier in the game, Cousins unloaded the ball a step before Doctson turned, leading to a completion. That’s a good sign for him, too.

Whether this spark helps turn Doctson into a guy who can have 100-yard games remains to be seen. But it does show what he already can do while trying to reach that level. He’s averaging 17.2 yards on 11 catches this season.

“To give him those opportunities and see him make those plays,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said, “is just going to add to the confidence level of not only Josh, but to Kirk throwing to him.”

Trust is built one big catch at a time.

“I hope,” Cousins said, “it’s a sign of things to come.”