PHILADELPHIA – The momentum shifting special teams play that led the Cowboys to victory Sunday came from an athlete who'd never returned a punt for a touchdown in his life.
Dwayne Harris earned the punt returning job from Dez Bryant because of his sure hands and steady decision-making. He provided much more than a safety net in the fourth quarter of a tie game, taking back a 78-yard punt return touchdown to give the Cowboys a seven-point lead they'd only build on the rest of the night.
With the offense sputtering and the defense committing untimely penalties, Harris picked a critical moment to earn his first NFL touchdown, following Danny McCray's block on former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar all the way to the end zone.
"I don't think the kicker really wanted to make the tackle," Harris said. "Danny just walled him off and let me have the sideline. From there it was the end zone. It was six (points)."
Harris said he knew the moment the ball left McBriar's foot he had a chance to take the punt back. The Cowboys used a wall formation, forcing Harris to dart for the sideline where the blocks awaited.
"I knew he outkicked his coverage," Harris said. "Orlando Scandrick did a great job of walling his guy inside. We had a wall left return on, and it just set up the outside."
Harris went untouched the entire way. He only slowed down momentarily to allow McCray to take out McBriar, who was the only player who could have prevented the touchdown.
McCray didn't have a specific player to block on the play. He had to block whoever was in the way, which turned out to be his former teammate.
"Unfortunately, it had to be Mat," McCray said. "Me and Mat are cool from when I first got here in Dallas. But we talked after the game and shook it up. It was all good."
Harris didn't want to think a penalty was even possible after crossing the goal line. He said he was living in the moment, and he knew the play would stand when he turned around to see his elated teammates on the sideline.
His punt return touchdown was nearly his second this year in his limited time as a returner, getting tripped up by the last Falcons defender who had a shot at him a week ago. He described that moment as devastating, but didn't have to wait much longer for redemption.
The return began a flurry of non-offensive touchdowns for the Cowboys, who scored on an interception return, a fumble recovery and a punt return for the first time in team history.
"It feels great to give my team the opportunity to get a win," Harris said. "We always say special teams have got to make a big play."
While Bryant was the returner who was supposed to provide the entertainment this season, Cowboys players knew Harris could supply the same.
"We watched clips last year and we saw him breaking long returns," McCray said. "It's hard to pick between him and Dez when you've got that going on, but now that Dez is playing full receiver, Dwayne's getting his full opportunities and maximizing them."