Leon Washington, the hero, made an earnest request.
“Please give credit to the guys in front of me,” he said after his electrifying kickoff returns led the Seahawks to a 27-20 victory over San Diego on Sunday. “I don’t want anything said in the paper about Leon.”
Sorry, Leon, but Leon is the word of the day.
Why did the Seahawks win despite being outgained 518-271? Leon. Who scored the only Seattle touchdowns in the second half? Leon. Who rescued his team from the despair of losing a 17-0 lead? Leon. What’s the name of the only Seahawk to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in a single game? Leon.
Leon, write it in neon.
“Leon, boy, he was just magic out there,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
“Leon, he’s an explosive player,” running back Justin Forsett said.
“That’s just Leon, doing what he does,” wide receiver Deion Branch said.
Just think what we’d be saying about the guy if he didn’t have a rod in his right leg. Then again, he probably wouldn’t be here to enliven the Seahawks if not for the misfortune.
Eleven months ago, Washington suffered the kind of injury that makes stomachs do somersaults. He snapped the two major parts of his lower leg so bad that a bone punctured the skin. Some thought his career was in jeopardy. Others predicted he would need two years to get right. But he looks as spry as ever.
Does Washington have the same explosiveness? “Do I?” he retorted. “You tell me.”
Yes, Leon, you do.
He proved it during his 101-yard touchdown run on the opening kickoff of the third quarter, dashing through perfect blocking, reaching the end zone untouched.
Then he proved it again when the Seahawks most needed a big fourth-quarter play. After San Diego erased a 17-0 deficit and tied the score at 20 on quarterback Philip Rivers’ touchdown pass and two-point conversion, Washington returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for the game-winning score.
It was just the 10th time in NFL history that a player returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a game. The name “Leon” is now atop the Seahawks’ record books for the longest two kickoff returns in team history.
Seattle had just 271 total yards of offense. Washington had 253 return yards in the second half. Between his two touchdowns, he just missed another end-zone dance because he fell down while preparing to juke San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding.
“I kind of lost balance,” Washington explained, laughing. “I’ve got to realize it doesn’t take that much to shake kickers. You’ve got to give them a little somethin’ somethin’ and go on about your business. Oh well. At least I didn’t get tackled by the kicker. I got tackled by the turf.”
But if Washington had scored on that play, he might not have gotten the chance to be the savior at the end. The Seahawks would’ve preferred to have an easier time winning this peculiar game, but the fidgety way they captured it wound up revealing some positives.
Most encouraging is that they’re turning into an opportunistic, big-play team. Forcing San Diego five turnovers — including two interceptions from rookie safety Earl Thomas — helped negate Rivers’ 455-yard passing performance. The special teams were spectacular, from Washington’s work to Golden Tate’s punt returns to recovering a Chargers fumble on a kickoff. And the offense, despite doing very little and blowing opportunity after opportunity, capitalized on San Diego coach Norv Turner’s horrible clock management at the end of the second quarter with John Carlson’s touchdown reception.
The Seahawks have a mildly surprising 2-1 record, and what they lack in consistency, they make up for in explosiveness and sometimes luck. After several years of being a team lacking in dangerous playmakers, this team has plenty of them — on offense, defense and special teams. And the football keeps finding them. On Sunday, Washington was simply the one who stood out.
“Being able to instantly change the momentum, I always relish that opportunity,” he said. “When they kept kicking it to me after the first touchdown, I’m like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this. They’re still kicking it to me.’ I knew I had to make something happen.”
And now he has the ultimate comeback tale for his two boys, Leon Jr. (4) and Noel (1). Washington remembers being injured and hearing Leon Jr. playfully say he could beat Daddy in a race. Well, now Leon Jr. knows how daunting a challenge that would be.
“Now my two boys have a story they can always share: Dad broke his leg and came back and had two touchdowns,” Washington said.
It’s a fairy tale, really.
And Leon, whether or not you like it, you’re the lead character.