Normally the site of DeSean Jackson fielding a punt would send chills through every punt coverage unit in the NFL.
The Washington receiver has returned four punts for touchdowns in his career, including a memorable walk-off that delivered the Philadelphia Eagles a win over the New York Giants in 2010.
But in a 19-16 loss to Dallas (4-8) in front of a crowd of 80,444 fans Monday night at FedExField, Jackson’s return turned the tide toward the visiting team. Running forward, then backward and horizontally, Jackson lost 7 yards before J.J. Wilcox forced a fumble recovered by punter Chris Jones.
It was that kind of night for specialists.
“I’m very confident [returning punts]. At any given time I feel like I can break it,” Jackson said. “That’s what I tried to do tonight, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way. Very frustrating, but I’ll keep doing what I need to do to be a professional and make plays.”
Dan Bailey hit four field goals for the Cowboys, Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins hit three and there were no touchdowns in the game until Darren McFadden turned Jackson’s fumble into a 6-yard touchdown run.
Jackson gave himself a shot at redemption with a 28-yard touchdown in the final minute, but Bailey would be the hero with his final 54-yard field goal.
“It was pretty cool for the moment, but all that goes out the door when you lose a game,” said Jackson, who finished with six catches for 80 yards. “We’ll figure out a way to win.”
Known for his potential to pitch a fit, Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant instead nodded his head and flashed a knowing smile for the Monday Night Football cameras.
It was Washington’s deep threat, Jackson, who was so animated, first leading Morris Claiborne into the end zone and then wagging his finger for every screaming member in the pro-Redskins crowd.
Like Bryant, Jackson had pouted at his lack of productivity earlier in the game. Like Bryant, he answered with game-changing play that led to a tying score. In Jackson’s case, that play was a 28-yard touchdown catch that came with 44 seconds left in the game. Bryant’s play was a 42-yard reception from Matt Cassel that set up one of four tying field goals for Dan Bailey.
The difference between the two receivers was the number of productive plays.
Jackson caught six passes for 80 yards and a score. He repeatedly left Claiborne in his wake, but the Cowboys’ cornerback was able to celebrate a handful of overthrown balls from Kirk Cousins.
Bryant received only two targets from Cassel in the first three quarters and went without a reception until the fourth.
A depleted Redskins secondary missing top cornerback Chris Culliver, who is on injured reserve with torn knee ligaments, held the 2014 All-Pro wideout under 100 yards for the sixth time in seven games this season.
However, after a 46-yard kick return by Lucky Whitehead, Bryant came up clutch, catching two passes to set up the winning field goal. He finished with three receptions for 62 yards.
After the dramatic ending, Jackson and Bryant were photographed swapping jerseys.
“Me and Dez are great friends,” Jackson said. “We both have mutual respect. He does a great job out there. Every time we’re out there on the field and we’re playing against each other, we’re both going to try to stand out and shine. Tonight he did his thing, and I did my thing. I just got to find out a way to turn it into victory.”
Hatcher makes a mark
The Dallas Cowboys developed Jason Hatcher into a Pro Bowl defensive lineman, but the Redskins made him a $27.5 million man.
After recording his best pro season with 11 sacks in 2013, his eighth year with Dallas, Hatcher accepted a lucrative four-year offer from the NFC East rival in the nation’s capital.
In his first year with the Redskins, Hatcher failed to hurt the Cowboys. He logged 44 snaps last year in a 20-17 Washington win on Monday Night football, but did not make a single tackle. Hatcher missed the second meeting of the teams due to a knee injury.
Hatcher brought pressure that helped Trent Murphy land a sack in the first half, but it wasn’t until the third play of the third quarter that Hatcher hurt his former employer on the stat sheet.
The 6-foot-6, 299-pound defensive tackle bottled up Darren McFadden and ripped out the ball for the back’s second lost fumble of the day.
Backup linebacker Mason Foster, who started for injured teammate Perry Riley Jr. and proved to be another quality reserve added by General Manager Scot McCloughan, recovered the ball. ‘
Hatcher would leave the game twice with an ankle injury, a possible concussion and a stinger.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I had got my ankle rolled on and then a couple plays later I got hit in the head. It was a stinger,” Hatcher said. “I lost some strength in my arm, but it should be coming back later on tonight and through the week I think I’ll be OK for Chicago.”