Defending DeSean Jackson's aggressive punt return that helped down Redskins

Still frustrated about DeSean Jackson's punt return? So is our resident DeSeanologist Peter Hailey, but he's also ready to forgive.

As I sat inside Cornerstone Grill & Loft in College Park, watching DeSean Jackson try to reverse fields against the Cowboys special teams and then fumble at the end of what will go down as one of the most crushing plays in Redskins history, I was angry. The table in front of me almost got flipped. The beer in my hand almost got thrown. And I nearly joined in with the other fans around me calling for #11 to be cut as soon as he reached the sidelines.

DeSean’s decision was a bad one. A very, very bad one, in fact. Had he just taken the yards that were in front of him, Washington would’ve been nearly guaranteed overtime, and would’ve had at least a chance to pull out a win. But instead, the wideout tried to be a hero, and he ended up being the villain. 

Yes, he temporarily redeemed himself soon after with a riveting touchdown catch, but when Dan Bailey knocked through the game-winner just before the clock ran out, he solidified Jackson’s status as the contest’s goat. However — and I can’t believe my fingers are typing this after how upset I was Monday night — I do understand why Jackson tried to do what he did. 

Did I agree with it as it was happening? No, I was one of many who was yelling, “What are you doing?!?” when he began running toward his own end zone. And do I agree with it now? Uh, absolutely not; it may end up costing the franchise its first playoff berth since 2012. But, like I said, I can at least come to grips with why Jackson attempted to make something out of nothing. Here’s why…

1) He’s made mindboggling plays before

Take a second, and think of an adjective or two to describe DeSean Jackson. What did you come up with? Electric? Explosive? Fast? Playmaker? All of those certainly fit the 29-year-old, who has pulled off some insane feats on NFL fields all over the country.Remember the Miracle in the New Meadowlands, when Jackson took back a punt against the Giants to steal a victory late in the 2010 season in what is regarded as one of the greatest efforts in league history -- and came in a near-identical situation as Monday Night Football? Well, DeSean does.

"That's what I'm used to doing," Jackson said about being a playmaker following the loss. "Go back in history. 2010. This time, 2015, it didn't go my way. I fumbled. The team lost. Very frustrated."

There were other spectacular moments. Remember all the times when, as an Eagle, the wiry speedster blew by a Washington corner for long scores? This is a guy who has made things happen in his career that only a very, very select few athletes can make. So for him, reversing fields and beating an entire coverage unit wasn’t an impossible obstacle. It was actually something he thought he could do, and had the confidence that he could do.

“I mean, he’s capable of doing that," Blackmon said. "You saw him back there and we were excited. He’s fast enough where he can reverse field and do all those things so he tried to make it happen.”

2) He’s not the normal punt returner, and may have felt added pressure to make something happen because of that. 

The team’s normal punt returner is Jamison Crowder, the rookie who hasn’t had many lengthy returns in 2015 but is a sure-handed option that gets positive yardage almost every single time he’s called on to take one back. But with the clock winding down, coach Jay Gruden passed on Crowder and went for Jackson's home run potential. The message was clear to his players, the Cowboys, and everyone watching: We want him to rip off a huge one.

DeSean is definitely aware of this. He gets that when he’s sent out to take back a punt, his primary purpose isn’t to pick up seven yards and run out of bounds. No, he’s back there to collect 30, 40, or 50 yards, to score points or set up points, and that idea must’ve been present in the veteran’s mind when he opted to make the big play instead of the safe play. He said it himself: “I feel like I’m a big threat in this league. I’ve been proving that for years to come and it’s just one of those things where I’m trying to make a play for my team.”

Similar to a pinch hitter in baseball, when Jackson’s used on specials, he feels added weight to do something spectacular. 

3) Why would he try to put his offense in a decent position to win when the offense had done almost nothing all evening? 

There’s been an argument circulating around that, by not taking the sure yardage, Jackson automatically lost the matchup for the ‘Skins. And while they sure as hell were more likely to come out on top either in regulation or overtime if he didn’t commit his colossal error, we can’t just assume that Kirk Cousins would’ve marched his guys down the field, because they hadn’t done that all night. 

What’s the point of giving the ball to an offense deep in your own territory with little time remaining and hoping they come through when there was no indication at all they would? Jackson had been a part of the struggling group, so he knew things weren’t working. In his mind, he may have felt that his chances of running back a punt were higher than the offense’s chances of picking up the points they needed. Were they? Probably not. But you can’t fully blame Jackson for not handing the ball to the offense when they hadn’t done anything with it up to that point. 

Blackmon doesn't believe Jackson was "making it all about himself."

"I mean, he has plenty of money. He has all the accolades. We're tied for first place so, hey, this is his chance to get us back in the playoffs and that's why he went back there."

In conclusion, I’m still mad at DeSean Jackson, and I know much of the fanbase is, too. But after giving it some time to settle in, I have come to a certain level of understanding with his error, and, while I’ll wish for weeks he could take it back, see why he tried to be Superman when an ordinary citizen would’ve been fine. He wasn’t ultimately able to redeem himself against Dallas considering the Burgundy and Gold lost, but let’s see if he can win back ‘Skins supporters down the stretch of the season. Something tells me he might.

Follow Peter Hailey on Twitter at @barelyin.

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