IRVING, Texas –
Unfortunately for Harris, it goes with the territory. You’re not going to rack up 222 return yards and a punt return touchdown in a division rivalry game and go unnoticed.
It seems like the third-year wide receiver got that impression just from checking to see how many texts and emails he received after the win against Washington.
“A lot -- from friends and family, just congratulating me on a good game,” he said.
Harris and the return unit are the latest story in a season of prolific outbursts. The Cowboys defense was the story to start the year, after nabbing six takeaways in the season opener against the Giants. The offense grabbed the headlines next with 506 passing yards and an avalanche of points in the loss to Denver.
But with the offense struggling to move the ball and the defense struggling to get off the field, the return game provided the spark.
“We have a great group of guys on special teams as a unit,” Harris said. “We do a great job on kickoffs, holding other teams inside the 20. And we do a good job on punt covering, a good job on punt returns, getting yardage. And the same thing with kickoff returns.”
Of course, it always helps to see a favorable matchup in the preparation. There’s not much the Cowboys want to remember about 2012’s season-ending loss to Washington, but it’s worth noting that Harris tallied a fantastic 151 combined return yards in that game – including punt returns of 28 and 39 yards.
“We knew we could take advantage of their special teams. Our goal was to go in there and dominate them on special teams,” Harris said. “I definitely felt good, especially when we was rolling like we was. The guys up front felt confident in me. I felt confident in them. It was a great combination.”
That confidence extends beyond the special teams unit, as well.
“It starts with confidence. You’ve got to believe you can do it – you can’t be afraid,” Bryant said. “This is a tough game, man, and a lot of guys can’t do it. Just to see him do it is outstanding.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett reiterated those points when asked about Harris on Monday afternoon. It’s not exactly a new development. Harris has returned punts in at least part of each of his three seasons, and he is sporting a fantastic average of 13.8 yards per return over 45 attempts.
His 2013 stats are slightly skewed by his small number of returns – eight. But even still, he is literally running away from the competition with an average of 23.6 yards per return. That’s more than five yards more than the No. 2 return man, Baltimore’s Tandon Doss, and it’s more than 10 yards more than the No. 3 returner, Denver’s Trindon Holliday.
And none of that accounts of his abilities as a gunner, which have seen him smother several opposing return men to the tune of five tackles this season.
“He just has a knack. Some guys have a feel for running in open space,” Garrett said. “He never seems to be bothered by the football. He catches it cleanly. He gets into his return. If you look at those returns last night, they were blocked really, really well. And he took full advantage of it.”
This is bound to raise a hot topic in light of Harris’ recent success. If he is such a dynamic playmaker, why hasn’t he received more opportunities with the Cowboys offense? The 2012 season saw him come on strong toward the finish, as he notched all 17 of his receptions, all 222 of his yards and his lone touchdown in the final seven games of the year.
Harris has grabbed six balls this season for 66 yards, and he matched last year’s touchdown total in Week 3 with a 24-yard score against St. Louis. Though he is currently on pace to finish with fewer yards and fewer receptions than a year ago.
That didn’t seem to bother him, however. Though he might feel better with defenders in his face than microphones, he dodged the issue like a lunging linebacker.
“I look at myself as a football player. I do everything,” he said. “Whatever coach wants me to do, whatever this team wants me to do, that’s what I do.”