When Vernon Davis hit the end zone for the Redskins, it meant a 14-0 lead for Washington. For Davis, it meant his first touchdown since 2014 and, in a way, a symbol to the rest of the NFL that the veteran tight end had plenty of good football left. For the referees, it meant unsportsmanlike conduct.
After the TD catch from Kirk Cousins, Davis celebrated by shooting a faux jump shot, throwing the football over the goal post. The move was innocuous and swift, not drawn out or in any way taunting the Eagles defenders. Regardless, the refs threw a flag, and Davis was hit with a personal foul penalty.
A 10-year NFL veteran, Davis has 56 career touchdowns and he said he had never been flagged for excessive celebration. Until Sunday.
"Coach addressed [celebration penalties] in the meeting a few weeks ago," Davis said. "He told us about dunking it, and he told us that we could get a penalty, 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 think I’ll be OK.’ But of course, it turned out to be a penalty."
The penalty proved to be costly, as the Redskins ensuing kickoff moved back 15 yards, Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins routinely blasts the football out of the end zone on kickoffs, but with the penalty, his kick was an obvious return. Wendell Smallwood grabbed the ball and went 86 yards to the house, silencing the FedEx Field crowd and allowing the Eagles to stay in the game.
"I’m not going to blame Vernon for that returning kickoff touchdown," Gruden said. "He would never do anything that would jeopardize a 15-yard penalty. He didn’t know."
The best explanation for the penalty is that Davis used the football as a prop in his celebration. It's a weak reason for a flag, but the closest logic to the rule book that allows for the call.
"I showed all the videos of illegal celebrations the other day 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’ve done the same thing, but now we know and he won’t ever do it again."