- - Sunday, December 9, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

LANDOVER — There was a bright spot among the wreckage Sunday, a familiar glimmer in the midst of carnage.

As the New York Giants piled on against Washington, sending a chunk of the intimate gathering to FedEx Field exit gates at halftime, there was good, ol’ No. 5, still doing his thing.

You want to talk about the overall atrociousness of a 40-16 blowout that was worse than it sounds? Be my guest. You want to bemoan the horrendous play of quarterback Mark Sanchez? The pitiful, porous defense? No problem. You want to strap coach Jay Gruden and president Bruce Allen in seats on the next plane, train, or automobile headed out of town? Go for it.

Can’t say that I blame you.

But I’d rather spend our short time together in a Philippian state of mind, fixing our thoughts on what’s honorable, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy: punter Tress Way.

With all due respect to halfback Adrian Peterson, Way arguably has been Washington’s most valuable player and its most impressive weapon. His latest effort was no different, other than the overtime he put in.

Way’s high in punts this season was six, which he recorded in the home game against Dallas and on Monday Night Football at Philadelphia. On Sunday, he had seven punts … in the first half alone.

“You get into a groove when you’re on the field, and it’s never a good time when I’m on the field,” Way said. “I think I noticed it by the comfortability factor. If I punt once per quarter, it’s pretty spaced out. But when I’m out there quite a bit I have a feel for the wind, the field, the pace of play and everything like that.”

The NFL leader in punts inside the 20, Way kicked his way into the team record book. He added three such boots against the Giants to set a single-season franchise mark (36) since the statistic began being tracked in 1976. He just missed another on his first punt of the day, when New York’s Jawill Davis fielded a 51-yarder at the 10 and managed a return to the 21.

Remarkably, Way punted just once in the second half, uncorking a 63-yard on Washington’s initial drive.

On the team’s first 10 possessions, there were eight punts, and two interceptions. Little did we know Way would have the rest of the day off due to quarterback Josh Johnson’s surprising heroics in relief of Mark Sanchez.

Way had done his part. But that doesn’t make blowouts any easier on the stomach.

“That’s where the focus factor comes in,” he said. “We can find a couple of other guys that had awesome days as well, like Ryan Kerrigan had two tackles for loss. But we play for each other, and at the end of games like today you never feel good.”

Washington isn’t capitalizing much, but it should feel good about having Way.

Ever since special teams coach Ben Kotwica challenged him to improve over the offseason, Way has become masterful at using different calls and alignments to confuse returners. His misdirection and ability to pull kicks across his body is leaving returners clueless about which way he’s punting.

“Coach Ben and I are playing chess when other teams are playing checkers,” Way said, mentioning a long punt that wasn’t fielded Sunday because he fooled Davis into playing the wrong side of the field.

“Tress has been amazing all year,” linebacker Mason Foster said. “He’s a weapon for us. We just have to keep them down there when he gives us good punts. I’m in on (punt coverage) so I see what he does. I know how hard he works. He’s definitely locked in and playing amazing.”

Unfortunately, not enough teammates are following suit. If Sunday’s loss — the fourth consecutive and fifth in six games — didn’t extinguish flickering playoff hopes, the instability under the center should douse them.

Johnson completed 11 of 16 passes, including a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown to Jamison Crowder. But if you’re putting your hopes in a journeyman who previously hadn’t attempted an NFL pass since 2011, you’re way too optimistic.

On the other hand, Way has every reason to suspect his season might extend beyond Dec. 30, Washington’s finale when Philadelphia comes to town. Leading the league in punting’s most vital statistic (inside the 20) and having won an NFC Special Teams Player of the Week Award earlier, there’s a good chance he’ll be in Orlando Jan. 27 for his first Pro Bowl.

“I’m so thankful that fans like voting for me and having me as their punter,” he said. “I’m the guy who gives the ball back to the other team, so it’s cool when fans like you. I’ll just try to keep up that reputation and have fun and hopefully continue to play well.”

Someone has to do it.

If “only” the punter is going to step up, that’s the Way it goes.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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