And, to think, there was a time – and it was just last October – when we were subjected to the horrible decision-making and careless ball-handling of Dez Bryant on Cowboys’ punt returns. Suddenly, Dallas has one of the best, most explosive special teams in the NFL thanks to his replacement, Dwayne Harris.
Bryant was yanked off punt returns by head coach Jason Garrett in the middle of last year’s loss to the Giants in which he fumbled once and fielded a ball inside his own 5-yard line. Two weeks later Harris returned a punt for a touchdown in Philadelphia and has secured not only the job, but his spot alongside the best returners in the league.
On Sunday, he beat the Redskins. Not the offense, which was mediocre in the wake of losing DeMarco Murray. And not the defense, which was valiant but undermanned after losing DeMarcus Ware. This game belonged to Harris, who produced more yards (222) than the Tony Romo’s unit (213).
Harris’ 86-yard punt return gave Dallas a 14-3 lead. And his 90-yard kickoff return allowed the Cowboys a short field after the Redskins had scored twice to pull within five points. On the punt return, Jeff Heath may have gotten away with a key, uncalled block in the back at Dallas’ 20, Danny McCray sealed the sideline with a nice shield and Orlando Scandrick and J.J. Wilcox picked off would-be tacklers to clear Harris’ path. On the kickoff return, Phillip Tanner, Kyle Bosworth and DeVonte Holloman had key blocks to open the initial running lane, but it was recently promoted practice-squadder Cameron Lawrence’s blast that sprung Harris.
How does 213 offensive yards produce 31 points? With a big boost from special teams.
Said Romo, “Dwayne did a great job and almost allowed us to kind of just sit over there as an offensive unit and rack up all his yards as if we did it without doing much work.”
For the second time this season Harris will be named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week. He won the honor for all of his tackles in Week 1 against the Giants. And he’ll win it this week after the fourth-best return day in franchise history. Only Reggie Swinton (224 in ’01), Felix Jones (247 in ’10) and Mel Renfro (273 in ’64) have produced more combined return yards.
Whereas Bryant deteriorated into a liability as a punt-returner, Harris is now one of this team’s biggest assets.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently writes a sports/guy stuff blog at DFWSportatorium.com and lives in McKinney with his fiancee, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.