Josh Cribbs shakes off return rust

Colts' new kick returner has 82-yard touchdown punt return brought back by a penalty in encouraging season debut.

The legs still had some rust, but undeniable speed, too.

Josh Cribbs showed Sunday he’s still got game as an NFL returner in his Indianapolis Colts debut.

He took a punt back 82 yards for a third-quarter touchdown only to see what would have been his 12th career score on a return negated by a penalty. Message still sent.

Cribbs almost lost his footing twice on the return, but stuck with it and provided the Colts with proof his Tuesday signing should be a rewarding relationship. The 10th-year pro who went to three Pro Bowls with Cleveland considered it validation after nobody gave him a chance for much of this season.

“Exactly, exactly, and it’s always that ‘used to’ fact,” Cribbs said after the Colts’ 23-3 victory over Jacksonville at Lucas Oil Stadium. “He used to do this, he used to do that, but to see me do it out there and I am not even fully back yet, it just says a lot about where I’m heading.”

Cribbs couldn’t get a job after playing six games with the New York Jets and ending up on injured reserve last season. He deduced it was because of his age, 31.

But he served notice that he’s back on the game’s opening kickoff. He confidently fielded it nine yards deep in the end zone, then raced 46 yards.

“He was outstanding,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “You could kind of see the legs, a little bit wobbly, but good enough to take one to the house. It was unfortunate that we had the call on the play.

“It was good energy and it was good for our return game. I’m glad we’ve got Cribbsy on our team. He’s going to do nothing but get better as he gets his legs, gets his strength and gets in better football shape. He’s a dynamic guy. We’ve said it all along. That was a plus.”

Cribbs, playing for the first time in about a year, averaged 32 yards on two kickoffs and 9.6 yards on five punts with two fair catches.

“It did feel good, spider webs feel off a little bit,” he said of the rust. “Coach (Pagano) made fun, he said, ‘Hey, it doesn’t have to look pretty, as long as you get in the zone.’ That was good for him to say. I got in the ice tub after that, got to get my legs back, so just expect a lot more from this return unit.”

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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