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Rashied Davis: The King of 3rd Down

How did Rashied Davis go from Arena Football bench-warmer to the #3 receiver on a Super Bowl team in three years? By epitomizing the words “tough,” “opportunistic,” and “prepared.” Also by being “slightly crazy.” As part of Jack M Silverstein’s ongoing series on the 2006 Bears, Davis discusses his more-than-slightly-crazy 2005 (two leagues, 30 games, 13 months, two broken hands) and how that turned him into a 3rd down master in 2006.

Seattle Seahawks v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I want to show you some stats.

2006 Bears targets on 1st, 2nd, and 4th down combined

  1. Muhsin Muhammad: 83
  2. Bernard Berrian: 67
  3. Desmond Clark: 57
  4. Thomas Jones: 39
  5. Jason McKie: 33
  7. Mark Bradley: 11

Targets on 3rd down

  1. DAVIS: 39
  2. Berrian: 35
  3. Muhammad: 34
  4. Clark: 23
  5. Bradley: 12

Targets and yards on 3rd down, including playoffs

  1. DAVIS: 45 targets, 283 yards
  2. Muhammad: 42 targets, 266 yards
  3. Berrian: 41 targets, 226 yards
  4. Clark: 26 targets, 220 yards

Targets in the second half of a one-possession game

  1. DAVIS: 7
  2. Muhammad: 6
  3. Berrian: 4
  4. Bradley: 2
  5. Clark: 1
  6. Justin Gage: 1

If you watched the Bears in 2006, you likely remember Rashied Davis’s clutch catches, particularly on 3rd down. Most notably, he had huge 3rd down grabs to set up overtime game-winning field goals against the Buccaneers in the regular season and the Seahawks in the playoffs.

A deeper dive into the numbers, though, shows Rashied’s increase in production on 3rd down was a season-long trend. This would have been amazing for any receiver, but particularly for Davis, who in 2006 was in his first year at receiver with the Bears after playing cornerback the year before.

“I really think the Bears wanted me to make the team,” says Davis, whose preference from the beginning was to play receiver. “The benefit of them bringing me in as a corner, they hadn’t drafted any corners. All I had to do was beat out some of their veteran players.”

Easier said than done, but it fits with everything else Davis did in 2005:

  • Began the year as a two-way star of the San Jose SaberCats in the Arena Football League
  • Had surgery on his right hand before the first AFL game, January 30, 2005
  • Played cornerback at the start of the season due to the cast on his hand
  • Switched to receiver after two games and set franchise records for touchdowns (44 — 30 receiving, 8 rushing, 6 returning) and points (264)
  • Named team MVP and Offensive Player of the Year
  • Signed with the Bears in June after the AFL playoffs
  • Broke his left hand on the second day of training camp and didn’t miss a practice
  • With a splint on his left hand, played the 2005 preseason as a returner — no fumbles, no drops
  • Played cornerback in 12 games
  • Made the switch to receiver for the playoff game against Carolina, January 15, 2006

That’s 30 professional football games in 13 months — plus preseason and practice — as a receiver, returner, runner, and defender, while breaking both of his hands.

“Long year,” he told me.

Chicago Bears vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers - November 27, 2005
In 2005, Rashied Davis wore #21 as a cornerback and kick returner.
Photo by Allen Kee/Getty Images

Which brings us to 2006.

Competing with 2005 free agent Muhammad and recent draftees Gage (2003), Berrian (2004), and Bradley (2005), the five-foot-10-inch Davis — an undrafted former AFL bench-warmer — broke out as the number three receiver on the NFC’s best team. While doing so, he became a go-to receiver on the most critical of downs, earning the absolute trust of his quarterback, his coaches, and his teammates.

How did that happen?

“Those were my opportunities,” he said. “And I wanted to win above all else.”

Like with all things in Rashied Davis’s career, the real answer is a bit more complicated.

(ED. note: the following interview has been edited for clarity and length. All NFL statistics are from


Games are won and lost on 3rd down, so your production on that down in a Super Bowl season speaks to the level of trust that the offense, coaches, and Rex Grossman had in you. And that might be unexpected for a player who was a cornerback in 2005, even with your Arena production.

But the playoff game against Carolina, we must have had some receivers out, because I remembered that Eddie Berlin got in the game, but I did not remember until I looked it up that you got in the game at receiver as well. Was that your first time at receiver on the Bears that year?

Yes. That's when I was unofficially moved over to wide receiver — for that game. During some practices that week, I'd been asked to go play on the offensive side of the ball. I wasn't on practice squad officially but I was a practice player, so I had to go both ways in practice. And a couple of guys, Mike Brown in particular, had been lobbying for them to move me to the offensive side of the ball.

What did Mike see?

That I was a pretty good wide receiver. (Laughs.) That week in practice I said to myself and to a few different guys that, “I'm going to show you Steve Smith.” Because I was Steve Smith for that game. “I’m going to show you what Steve Smith is going to do in this game.” I played how I would play in the game, and I would emulate what I thought Steve Smith would do. And I had a phenomenal practice that week.

That's when they moved me over unofficially to the offensive side of the ball. I think I might have played one play.

After the season, Lovie asked me into the offense and said, “Rashied, we're going to move you to wide receiver.” I was like, “Okay!” I'm a guy who goes with the punches, but I wanted to play receiver anyway. I felt like I could have been a good enough corner to be serviceable, but I would have needed a lot more time. I didn't have the time to learn. I played Arena League corner and I played four games in college, but I was re-learning everything. It was all brand new to me.

So when they moved me over to wide receiver, I was like, “Bet.” I was elated. But when I first walked into OTAs the next season, Dave Toub looked at me and said, “Rashied, do you know how you're going to make this team?” Being a guy who knows how to play the game well, I said, "Special teams?" (Laughs.)

And he said, “No. You need to be the fifth receiver.” And I said, “That's it?” No disrespect to any of the guys who were on the team at the time who had been drafted or had been there for a couple years, but I didn't think there was anyone better than me. I knew they had other guys who were going to play for sure — like Bernard Berrian, Muhsin Muhammad, Justin Gage and what not — but I didn’t have any fear of being able to be the fifth receiver. As a matter of fact, I knew I was going to be the third receiver. That was my mindset. I wasn't going to be somebody who was “serviceable.”

Detroit Lions vs Chicago Bears - September 17, 2006
Rashied Davis became Rex Grossman’s favorite 3rd down target in 2006.
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Let me read you some numbers. These are regular season targets in 2006 on 1st, 2nd, and 4th down: Moose 83, Berrian 67, Dez Clark 57, Thomas Jones 39, J-Mack 33, and then you with 17. And these are the team leaders in targets on 3rd down: you with 39, Berrian with 35, Moose with 34, Dez 23, Mark Bradley 12. Does that surprise you to hear your performance on 3rd down throughout the entire season?

You know what? I had no clue that it was that much. I knew that I made a lot of plays on 3rd down, but that is kind of mind-boggling for me. I didn't know that most of my targets were on 3rd down. But that shows, obviously, that I was trustworthy and reliable. It shows that not just the coaches but the quarterback believed in my ability and knew they could trust me with the ball if it was thrown my way.

Here’s another good one: on 3rd down — this is the entire regular season — targets on 3rd down in the second half of a one-possession game: you with 7, Moose 6, BB 4, Bradley 2.

Wow. (pause) Wow. (pause) I mean, I knew I was reliable. I knew I was going to make the play because that was my play. That was the only reason I was there. It was before we had Greg Olsen. And I knew that when they called my personnel grouping, that I had to go and make the most of every opportunity. If I didn't have a big kick return or something, then I had to catch the ball when it was thrown to me.

One of the things that Muhsin Muhammad said to me when they first made the transition was, “Rashied, catch the ball. They’ll teach you everything else. Just catch the ball when they throw it to you.” That stuck in my head.

And then one preseason game, there was a pass that Rex threw to me across the middle of the field. It was on a 3rd down and I had to dive. I dove and as I was catching it I hit the ground and it popped out. Fred Miller walked up to me and was like, “This ain't Arena Football no more. You gotta make those plays.”

Those two things stuck out in my head. I believed in myself, number one. But I also knew the importance of being out there on 3rd down and only coming in on 3rd down. And if I wanted to get the opportunity to continue to do that or even gain more opportunities, I needed to make the plays when I was called upon.

So your first game as a full-time receiver, Green Bay, you were targeted twice, and they were both on 3rd downs. How did you gain Rex's trust so quickly?

It began with the offensive coaches. I was taught by Mike Bajakian, who was the offensive quality control guy that year. “Jake” taught me the offense in a week. He was a phenomenal coach. Phenomenal teacher. And I was called upon. After Moose said what he said, I knew that I needed to catch the ball and I needed to make plays, and that was the way to gain the coach's trust and to get other players to believe in me. The number one thing I learned during my time as a player was — and Mike Martz put it best: as a receiver, my job is to be where I'm supposed to be, when I'm supposed to be there, and never fool the quarterback. Period.

Be where I'm supposed to be, when I'm supposed to be there, and never fool the quarterback.

That was my aim every time. And I was going to do what I had to do. I was going to know my responsibilities so well that there were no mistakes being made. There were times where Rex — I'm sure if you asked him today, he couldn't see me half the time he threw the ball to me. I'm not that tall. I'm five-foot-nine and three quarters. And he's not that tall. He's barely six foot. (Laughs.) But he would say, "Rashied, I just threw it. I just knew you were there."


Rashied made his name in 2006 on several big plays. His first was a 31-yard completion in Week 2 against Detroit that gave the Bears a first down on 3rd and 7. They were winning 24-7 at that point, though, so the play didn’t stand out.

What did stand out was his game-winning touchdown on 2nd down the following week in Minnesota.

BIG PLAY FLASHBACK: Week 3 in Minnesota. 2nd & 7, Grossman to Davis, 24 yards, touchdown. 1:58 remaining in the game. Bears take decisive 19-16 lead.

That was my first touchdown in the NFL, other than preseason. The play was called specifically for me. I had been lobbying for the play all game. They were playing me outside-in — trying to take away the corner route. Every time I ran a corner the guy was standing out there.

So I said, “Let's run Cowboy Pump.” Cowboy was a hitch-corner — a basic high-low concept. You have the outside receiver run a hitch and the inside receiver run a corner route. Cowboy Pump was hitch on the outside, (and) corner-post (on the inside).

I knew it was a big game, a big play. I knew we needed this touchdown. And although I was confident, I was scared, too. But I'm going to say it anyway. “Call a corner post. I’ll beat this guy. They're one-on-one coverage. I'm going to beat him.”

I think Lance Briggs said this to me: “Bro, I knew you were getting the ball the whole time. You were pacing in the back of the huddle.” (Laughs.) I was so amped up trying to get my mind so ready. I was in a zone.

The guy lined up. I think he was in press. I stepped him outside, made him step outside even more so I could get straight up the field, leaned him to the corner route, and then came back across on the post. And I beat the dude like a drum. Wide open. Rex launches it. I catch it. We score a touchdown. Game winner.

I was on cloud 9. Actually in the celebration, I jumped up and chest bumped with Moose and he knocked me down. But it was one of my favorite memories of all.

Rashied’s game-winning TD against the Vikings landed him on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, Sept. 25, 2006.

BIG PLAY FLASHBACK: Week 15 vs. Tampa Bay. 3rd & 8, Grossman to Davis, 28 yards, first down. 5:40 remaining in overtime. Bears hit winning field goal three plays later.

SILVERSTEIN: You scored your second touchdown on a 3rd down against the Bills, but the next big play everyone remembers is the overtime catch against Tampa.

(Laughs.) The “catch/no-catch.” In today's rules, that would probably be a no-catch, to be honest with you. And Ronde (Barber) knew it too. He made a phenomenal play to be honest with you. I jumped over him, caught it, and on the way down he actually poked it out. (Laughs.) It hit the ground.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Chicago Bears - December 17, 2006
Rashied Davis makes what he now calls the “catch/no-catch” against Tampa Bay, with Ronde Barber draped on his back, Dec. 17, 2006.
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

I got up real quick — because we had replay at the time — ran back to the huddle like it didn't hit the ground, and I don't even think my teammates knew if it was a catch or not. We ran the next play rather quickly. So no one ever challenged it. The “catch/no-catch.” (Laughs.)

You’re telling me that was not a catch?

It's a catch in the books. (Laughter from both.) But if you could look at the tape —

I can't. I've looked everywhere.

Good. Then it's a catch. But if you were able to find the tape, you would probably rule it a no-catch. I caught it, took a couple steps, but based on the rules, if you're going down — like the Calvin Johnson rule, basically. But in the history books it's a catch, and we kick a field goal and win.

Here’s Barber in the Tribune: “That ball hit the ground.” He’s pretty pissed in this Trib story.

And Ronde was 100 percent accurate. (Laughter.)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Chicago Bears
Ronde Barber seen behind Rashied Davis on Dec. 17, 2006, arguing that Davis’s catch was actually not a catch. Davis and the Bears prevailed.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

BIG PLAY FLASHBACK: Divisional playoffs vs. Seattle. 3rd & 10, Grossman to Davis, 37 yards, first down. 10:38 remaining in 1st quarter. Bears go up 7-0 three plays later.

SILVERSTEIN: You had two big catches in the playoff game against Seattle. I know you remember the second one. Do you remember the first one?

When I jumped over the guy? He should have picked it, actually. I remember it vividly. I remember that whole game. I think I had 84 yards.

You did.

Well, the first one, Rex probably shouldn't have thrown it, but he trusted me so much that he threw it. They were, I believe, in a bracket coverage. They had a man underneath and a man over the top. When he threw it, the man had perfect coverage underneath me, and I can't remember who it was but I jumped up and it went through his hands. I tipped it over him, and on my way down I snatched it out of the air.

The other thing I remember about that, as I was running across the field, I don't know if I hit a pothole or something but it felt like my leg almost gave out. I stood up and started running again but when I got tackled I hit my shoulder pretty hard. My shoulder was hurting after that.

Jordan Babineaux was the guy you caught it over.

Yes, Babineaux. And then whoever tackled me drove me into the ground.

It was Babineaux.

Oh he ended up tackling me too?

Yeah, I'm watching it right now.

So yeah, he drove my shoulder into the ground. and if you notice, you'll see me roll my shoulder at the end of it after someone came over to shake my hand or something. I think I walked off the field on that play.

BIG PLAY FLASHBACK: Divisional playoffs vs. Seattle. 3rd & 10, Grossman to Davis, 30 yards, first down. 12:10 remaining in overtime. Bears hit winning field goal four plays later.

The other catch I know very well. I have that picture up on my wall in my basement.

That’s the play that solidified everybody thinking of you as the 3rd down guy. You took another shoulder shot on that one.

I should have stayed up and run that one in for the touchdown. I sort of beat myself up for that. I should have eaten that tackle and scored a touchdown. But we won anyway. (Laughs.)

What I remember is that they left me wide open. I don't know how they did that because all I ran was seam routes, it seems. I caught a bunch of seam routes that year. And the guy playing underneath, they didn't play that bracket coverage this time. They were in cover 3, and I stayed up the seam, and as soon as I got past the linebacker level there was no one there.

I'm thinking, “Rex, throw it.” But I didn't have to wait long or even think about it because by the time I got by him and looked back, I was open and the ball was in the air. Rex launched it perfectly. Put it right there before the safety got there. As the ball's coming, it's in slow motion. I'm like, “Get here! Get here!” Because I knew the safety was coming.

As soon as it hit my hand everything sped back up. I turned my shoulder to take a hit. Tried to stay up, but I ended up going down. I got up and it was pure emotion after that. I got up screaming. It was unbelievable. It was the most amazing feeling because I knew how big that was. The gravity of that play. That was sheer emotion. All we needed to do was score and we were going to the NFC championship game.

And the Super Bowl?

Disappointing. We probably should have run the ball the entire game.

That’s something I always wondered, because Thomas was having a great game, and both sides with the wet ball were fumbling. Peyton was fumbling. Were there any complaints about getting away from the run in the 2nd half?

Now, we’ll talk about it. If we had run the ball the entire game, I think we win that game running away. But hindsight is 20/20.

So looking back, I know we’ve touched on this but I want to ask it directly: Why were you so good on 3rd down?

Because for me, that was it. Those were my opportunities. And I wanted to win above all else. That’s my number one goal — to win. I was going to do what I needed to do. If my coaches asked me to go out there and rush the quarterback, I would have gone out there and played defensive end if they thought I could do it and help the team.

I had played on championship teams in Arena Football before. It’s Arena Football, right? It wasn’t the NFL. But from a player’s standpoint, the magnitude was the same. It was a championship game. and I played under pressure in a really good offense on a really good Arena League team.

I learned how to play in big games and handle the pressure given minimal opportunities. because I had to do that at Arena before I became an Arena League quote-unquote “star.” When I scored those 44 touchdowns, the years prior to that I sat behind guys that I felt I should have been starting over. But I had to prove that I belonged in a starting position. There were some good guys in front of me. I had to make the plays when I was given the opportunities.

San Jose SaberCats v Los Angeles Avengers
Rashied Davis hauls in one of his 30 receiving touchdowns in the 2005 Arena Football League season. He added eight rushing touchdowns and six return touchdowns that year, for a SaberCats record 44 TDs.
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

That was one thing. The other thing in Arena Football I learned was how to catch the ball in traffic and stay supremely focused on the football and not everything else. There’s a saying in Arena Football: “The wall is undefeated.” That wall did not lose to any person. I had to learn how to catch the ball anyway, because I knew that as soon as I caught it the guy behind me was going to push me into the wall to try to make me drop the pass. So I learned how to catch the ball knowing I was going to take contact.

I think that’s why I had so much success on 3rd downs and in big situations. My Arena League background trained me not only to handle big situations, but then also to catch the ball in traffic, with people around you, and to not be worried about the hit. Catching the ball and tucking your body in a way — or getting underneath the hit.

One of my coaches in college used to say “You have to pluck and tuck the ball.” That means snatch the ball out of the air and tuck it away as quickly as you can. Pluck and tuck. I think that’s why.

And I’m also slightly crazy. (Laughs.) I like the physicality of the game. I know I’m not that big, but I like being able to take the big hit and get back up and say, “I took yo shit. I took your hit. What are you gonna do now? Because that didn’t work. I’m still gonna win. I bet on myself over you.”

I like that part of it. And ironically, where some may fold in that situation, it actually wakes me up. I look for that. Especially with the fact that I didn’t get the ball early and often — and I’m a better player when I get the ball early and often. Because of my position and who I was they weren’t going to throw me the ball early and often to get me warmed up and in the game. So I had to do something to get myself warmed up and in the game. If I hit somebody or took a hit, that woke me up. That was my mindset. And that’s probably why I had the most success on those downs.

So when you look back at Rashied Davis from 2006, what do you see?

I see a young, fearless kid who was and still is very thankful to God for every opportunity. It took a long time for me to make it to the NFL, and to play in the Super Bowl. I see a thankful kid who only wanted to be there for his team and his teammates. That’s who I see.