- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

DETROIT — Through seven games, the Washington Redskins’ special teams were anything but.

Return specialist Chad Morton ranked 18th in the league on punts and 21st on kickoffs. The punt coverage team stood 26th and the kickoff coverage 20th. Kickers John Hall and Ola Kimrin ranked a combined 22nd in field goal accuracy.

Those numbers were galling for the Redskins, one of the first franchises to have a special teams coach (Marv Levy in 1971) and the only one to have a special-teamer named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player (kicker Mark Moseley in 1982).

Coach Joe Gibbs was so proud of this often-overlooked aspect of football during his first tenure with the Redskins that he singled out special-teamers Pete Cronan and Otis Wonsley during his Hall of Fame induction speech.

So it represented a return to normalcy when the special teams made the difference in Washington’s 17-10 victory over Detroit yesterday at Ford Field.

The successes were many:

• Taylor Jacobs blocked a Nick Harris punt, and Walt Harris returned it 13 yards for a touchdown that gave the Redskins breathing room in the third quarter.

• James Thrash, replacing the injured Morton, set up the game’s first score by tiptoeing up the sideline on a 43-yard punt return. Ten plays later, Kimrin kicked a 24-yard field goal to give the Redskins a 3-0 lead.

• Thrash also kept three of Tom Tupa’s punts out of the end zone — he downed kicks on the Detroit 1-, 2- and 3-yard lines — helping pin the ineffective Lions offense deep in its territory.

• Tupa’s gross (47.9 yards) and net (45.6) averages were better than those of the league leaders.

Only a narrowly missed 51-yard field goal by Kimrin — the ball bounced off the crossbar — prevented a perfect afternoon.

“We’ve been struggling up and down on special teams throughout the year,” said Thrash, who was awarded a game ball. “[Special teams coach] Danny [Smith] really challenged us, knowing that we were playing a great returner and the fourth-ranked special teams. Now we’ve set a higher standard for ourselves.”

No one expected Thrash to be quite so dazzling.

The 29-year-old backup receiver caught Tupa’s second punt at the 1. He twice jumped into the end zone to flip punts back into the field, that teammates downed at the 2 and the 3.

“James was a one-man show,” running back Clinton Portis said.

Not quite. Smith decided this week to move Jacobs into prime punt-blocking position because he’s one of the fastest players on the Redskins. The move paid off.

“Coach Smith knows I bring a lot of speed off the edge,” Jacobs said. “I got a great jump on the ball. … I was in there so fast that I was thinking about tackling the guy, but I remembered what Coach Danny had told me about putting my hands.”

Jacobs just beat Todd Franz — coming from Harris’ left — to the ball. Harris scooped it up and ran to the end zone, the fourth touchdown of his career and the first such for the Redskins since Curtis Jordan did the honors 22 years ago during Washington’s first Super Bowl championship season.

“Anytime you see a ball lying there, you just scoop it up and go, especially when there’s nothing but grass in front of you,” Harris said.

Considering how close the score was, and the difficulty the Redskins offense has had in reaching the end zone, Harris’ score was huge.

“Every point we get is cherished,” a relieved Gibbs said.

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