ASHBURN, Va. -- In an otherwise drab game, Antwaan Randle El might have been the only player truly worth the price of admission.
He had a career day receiving. He played a major part in three scoring drives. He sprung a touchdown with a block. He returned punts. He unknowingly saved his team from defeat merely by tipping a ball. He even caught a 54-yard desperation heave at the end of regulation.
His response? It's about time.
"That's been the question," the Washington Redskins receiver said, "in the off-season, leading up to the regular season: 'When are you going to produce?"'
Known more as a jack of all trades -- and a master of none -- in his first five years in the NFL, Randle El had the type of game he'd been waiting for Sunday in Washington's 16-13 victory over Miami. He made big-time plays as a starting receiver, not as a guy who might throw a touchdown pass on an option play, the way he did for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2006 Super Bowl.
Randle El never had more than 47 catches in a season in four years with the Steelers and wasn't a regular starter until his final year with the team. As an ex-quarterback, he was the "nuisance" guy the defenses had to respect whenever he ran onto the field because he was a likely candidate to throw the option pass or run a reverse.
"When I was at Pittsburgh, I felt like I wasn't used the way I should have been until I started starting," Randle El said. "If you just come in the game and do a nuisance play, it's like 'Here he comes, watch him.' But if you're in the game all the time, they have to be aware of you all the time. It puts a little bit more pressure on the defense."
He left the Steelers and came to the Redskins expecting to do more, but struggled last season. He hurt his back on the first day of training camp and had to deal with a swollen knee and foot injury before the season was done. Although Randle El started every game, he was essentially the No. 3 receiver until Brandon Lloyd was demoted late in the season.
Randle El finished the year with only 32 catches for 351 yards, but he was still Mr. Versatile: He and Minnesota's Mewelde Moore were the only players to throw a touchdown pass, catch a touchdown pass and return a punt for a touchdown last year.
Randle El entered camp this year as the No. 2 receiver, and on Sunday he was Mr. Everything. His 35-yard catch set up a second-quarter field goal. His 49-yard reception set up a 19-yard touchdown run by Clinton Portis. Afterward, Randle El got a high-five from Portis for providing the key downfield block.
Randle El's 15-yard punt return gained valuable field position for a drive that set up a fourth-quarter field goal. On the last play of regulation, he caught a tipped pass near the goal line and nearly scored.
His tally for the day: five catches for a career-high 162 yards, three punt returns for 23 yards, and at least two knockdown blocks.
"We all know he's a heck of a football player," said Miami coach Cam Cameron, who used Randle El as a quarterback in college at Indiana. "What is he? A receiver? A punt returner? I don't know, but he's a football player."
Randle El wasn't aware of perhaps his biggest play. With less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter and the score tied, quarterback Jason Campbell threw high and wide on a third-down pass. Randle El got his fingertips on it and couldn't quite make what would have been an amazing catch.
Randle El was disappointed, but most everyone else in the stadium was happy - because he had deflected the ball enough to keep cornerback Michael Lehan from intercepting the pass and running down the sideline for the game-winning touchdown.
"I was just trying to catch it," said Randle El, who didn't realize the impact of the play until he was told by reporters the following day.
Told that some receivers might not have made a similar effort, he said: "If you don't go for that ball, in this offense, you're going to get chewed out."
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Randle El's highlight game is that it didn't include an option pass.
Maybe next time.
"We didn't need it," he said with a laugh. "We have it in (the game plan). We have to find the right spot to use it, but we didn't have the right spot."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press