It had been 10 years since the Oakland Raiders finished a game with a punt return touchdown, but on Christmas Eve at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, that streak came to an end.
There’s no way to describe what transpired against the Denver Broncos Monday night other than a heads-up play from a savvy veteran — or maybe, it was just a Christmas miracle.
Dwayne Harris has been a return specialist in the NFL for eight years now, and during his stops in Dallas, New York, and now Oakland, he’s seen just about everything there is to see. Earlier this season, Harris forced an out of bounds penalty during a kick return by standing out of bounds and picking up the ball while it was still in play, which Head Coach Jon Gruden broke down after Monday’s game.
“He made a play earlier in the season — I don’t know if you remember — where he forced an out of bounds kickoff,” Gruden said. “One of the most heads-up plays I’d ever seen, and tonight that was the impact play that really turned this whole game around. He covered kicks, I think he did a great job prohibiting them from downing the kick inside our five, he’s a special teams demon and I’m glad we got him.”
While that play left spectators baffled, it doesn’t top what he did on the first punt of the game in Week 16.
After a strong defensive stop by the Raiders on the Broncos opening drive of the game, Harris watched the punt from Colby Wadman sail over his head, and bounce towards the end zone, but the Broncos special teams unit dove in to try and prevent a touchback; however, the coverage team never fully established possession. Sitting on the Raiders one-yard line, and Broncos defenders nipping at Harris’ heels, he picked up the live ball and decided he was going to try and return the punt 99 yards.
All of Raider Nation watched in amazement, as Harris was able to evade defenders, and streak down the sideline, picking up blockers along the way. Once No. 17 crossed the 40-yard line he was as good as gone, and he didn’t stop running when he reached the end zone, he kept going and leaped into the first row to celebrate with Raider Nation.
“It was good, it was a great momentum starter for us,” Harris told reporters when asked about his play. “Get points on the board, especially for us and special teams, we’ve been struggling the last couple weeks. To get going on [special] teams, and to get the offense going, and get the team going it was a good feeling.
“As soon as I got around the corner I knew at that moment that I was going to score,” Harris added. “Because the punter was not going to tackle me, so I knew I was going to score.”
From that point on, the Raiders controlled the game on both ends of the field, forcing a pair of interceptions, and maintaining their lead all throughout the game. Harris didn’t factor into the offense much, but he didn’t have to, he accounted for 152 scrimmage yards, and helped hoist a “W” in the team’s final home game of 2018.
Following the game, reporters wondered if Harris was awarded the game ball.
“Did I get a game ball? I think so,” he said with a smile. “If not, I got my touchdown ball, so it’s cool with me.”
Harris’ Christmas Eve heroics will be talked about for years to come, and Raider Nation left the Coliseum Monday night with a fond memory they’ll cherish.