- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

ASHBURN — DeSean Jackson last returned a punt for a touchdown nearly five years ago, though the New York Giants will likely be haunted by it for eternity, no matter how hard they try to scrub it from memory.

Jackson, then in his third season with the Philadelphia Eagles, returned Matt Dodge’s punt 65 yards for a touchdown as time expired, giving the Eagles a 38-31 win over the Giants in Week 15. The mesmerizing return — which started with Jackson muffing the punt and ended with him strutting along the goal line before he actually scored — capped an improbable 21-point comeback. The Eagles went on to make the playoffs at the mercy of the Giants.

The Redskins hope that Jackson, now 29 and in his eighth season, can be that same threat in certain situations. Rookie wide receiver Jamison Crowder has been the team’s regular punt returner this season, but Jackson was mixed in during a 20-14 win against the Giants on Sunday.

Both of Jackson’s return opportunities occurred when Giants punter Brad Wing was backed up deep in his own territory. In the second quarter, on fourth-and-15, Wing’s heels were on the New York goal line. Later in the third quarter, on fourth-and-10, Wing took his position at his team’s 11-yard line.

The first punt was downed at the Redskins’ 37-yard line. Jackson returned the second one for just two yards, grabbing it off a bounce before he was pushed out of bounds.

Coach Jay Gruden said on Monday that Jackson won’t regularly return punts, but he could appear more in situations when opponents are backed up deep and there’s more room for the returner to run. Jackson has returned 133 punts in his career for 1,296 yards — an average of 9.7 yards per return — and four touchdowns.

“We’ll see a little bit more of him,” Gruden said. “I think he’s a great punt returner, historically. He’s not going to do it all the time, but put him back there when they’re backed up and we have a chance for a good return — I think [it’s] the smart thing to do. Nothing against Crowder, but DeSean is very explosive back there and has made some big plays in his career. That’s the only reason behind it. We could see more, but it depends on whether or not he wants to do it. If he wants to do it, we’ll put him back there.”

Against the San Francisco 49ers last season, Jackson returned one punt for no gain and called a fair catch on two others. During training camp, he rotated in drills with other punt returners, saying at the time that he’d be open to returning to that role.

“I mean, yeah, I definitely would like to bring that addition to the game,” Jackson said the week before the season began. “I think I’m a big-play receiver and a big-play special teams player, so any time I’m able to go out on the field and just help my team with big plays, that’s what I look forward to doing.”

Crowder has returned 21 punts this season for 123 yards — an average of 5.86 yards per return. In four years at Duke, Crowder averaged 13.37 yards per punt return and scored four touchdowns.

The Redskins have not returned a punt for a touchdown since wide receiver Santana Moss returned one 80 yards against the Detroit Lions on Oct. 26, 2008. That seven-year stretch without punt return ending in a touchdown is the longest of any team in the league.

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