The Washington Redskins churned out several big individual performances Sunday in their 27-24 overtime loss to the Cowboys, but perhaps no one made the Dallas sideline hold its collective breath as much as Brandon Banks.
In addition to four kickoff returns of 20 yards or more, the diminutive second-year veteran piled up 97 yards on three punt returns. That included a 55-yard return, which likely would have turned into a touchdown had it not been for Cowboys punter Mat McBriar’s desperate shove out of bounds.
Nobody in the locker room, however, was taking much solace in the solid special teams performance. That includes Banks, who felt he could have done more damage.
“It felt good, but at the end of the day I need to score,” Banks said. “I don’t think we would have been in the position that we was in at the end of the game if I had scored. So I’m not really that excited about it. I didn’t make good cuts at the end of my runs.”
Ironically, the play that irked him the most was the 55-yard return, which stands as the longest of his career in that category. After reeling in a booming 60-yard punt at the Redskins‘ 11-yard line, Banks hit a seam and appeared headed for the end zone as he galloped toward the right sideline. McBriar, however, was just fast enough to cut off the angle and push Banks out of bounds at the Dallas 34.
After the game, Banks felt he might have been better off cutting inside to avoid McBriar’s reach.
“I should have broke that,” he said.
The play was particularly painful in light of what the Redskins‘ offense did with the stellar field position. Quarterback Rex Grossman and company were only able to advance the ball three yards, setting up a 49-yard field goal attempt by Graham Gano that sailed wide right to keep Washington’s third quarter lead at 17-10.
Indeed, Banks put the Redskins in excellent field position. His returns of 24, 32 and 55 yards put the offense at its 42-yard line or beyond each time. Yet Washington capitalized on only one of those returns, capping Banks’ 32-yard return with a 16-yard touchdown strike to Jabar Gaffney just before halftime.
Regardless of the outcome, Banks’ production against the Cowboys - which also featured four kickoff returns that averaged 23 yards - represented a step forward after a rough start to the season. Entering the game, Banks averaged 9.0 yards per punt return, down from his 11.3 clip last season. He had yet to really break loose, as his longest runback to that point went for 35 yards.
Banks’ success Sunday did not come without help. Blockers consistently opened up gaping holes, something tight end Logan Paulsen attributed to the preparation led by special teams coach Danny Smith heading into the game.
“Danny just had a great scheme for this team,” Paulsen said. “[The Cowboys] play a little bit unconventional in their punt front. He did a great job doing his homework and getting us in some good situations. Brandon obviously has a lot of natural ability, but the guys in front of him were working really hard today, and you saw the result.”
Banks’ big returns were encouraging, but he made it clear he aims for the end zone, not more yards.
“I feel like any time I touch the ball I can go the distance,” Banks said. “Time is ticking. I’m getting frustrated, but I’m just going to stay relaxed, and when it comes, it comes.”