Washington's comeback tale soars with two TD returns

RENTON, Wash. -- Two months after he suffered a grotesque compound fracture of his right leg, so bad that teammates couldn't bear to look at it, Leon Washington already was beating the odds.

He walked down the aisle at his wedding last December with no crutches and no walking boot.

Anatomy: Washington's TD returns

Leon Washington electrified the Seattle crowd with two kickoff returns for TDs. So, how did he do it? Analyst Mike Mayock breaks down the heroics of "Neon Leon." More ...

"Got that accomplished, man," Washington said. "Reaching all those goals."

If being able to walk at his wedding was first on Washington's list of tasks in returning from a career-threatening injury, then the Seattle Seahawks' dynamic running back/returner was able to check off a few more last Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

Still got breakaway speed? Check.

Able to make game-changing plays? Check.

Single-handedly lead a team to victory? Check.

"I don't think there's any doubt that he's full-speed, full-tempo and all of that," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "If there was any back-thoughts we had, those were erased now."

Washington, acquired from the New York Jets in an offseason trade, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in Seattle's 27-20 victory over San Diego. His first, to open the second half, went for 101 yards, and the other, in the fourth quarter, was for 99. It was a dramatic way for Washington to pronounce himself fully recovered from the injury suffered in Week 7 of the 2009 season.

Washington finished with 253 yards on kickoff returns, nearly matching Seattle's offensive output of 271 yards. He was the 10th player in NFL history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game and just the third to return two for 99 or more yards. Not surprising, Washington was selected the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Washington would like to be more of a factor in the Seahawks' running game -- he totaled more than 800 yards with six touchdowns running and receiving just two years ago with the Jets. But from a special-teams standpoint, the deal that brought Washington to Seattle for a fifth-round draft pick looked like a colossal steal Sunday.

As Jets coach Rex Ryan told reporters the next day: "I'm just glad we traded him to an NFC team."

"He told me that the day he traded me, 'Man, Leon, we hate seeing you out in Seattle, but we couldn't keep you close,'" Washington noted.

Washington was deemed expendable after the Jets used a fourth-round pick on former USC star Joe McKnight. When Carroll was told of the opportunity to acquire Washington, the former USC coach was all for it -- he had seen Washington's ability while keeping an eye on his former quarterback Mark Sanchez.

But Carroll didn't comprehend how serious Washington's injury was.

It happened on a simple run play against the Oakland Raiders last Oct. 25, Washington's first carry of the game. He darted for 6 yards, but he was rolled up on by Oakland's Tommy Kelly. Washington suffered a compound fracture of his tibia and fibula, and there were doubts that the running back, who relies so heavily on his speed, could be as effective as he had been.

A metal rod was inserted into Washington's tibia to provide stability. Doctors said recovery would take 6 to 12 months, although some speculated it could be two years before Washington was back at full strength.

Washington's recovery started with simple things, such as flexing his injured leg and constantly lifting it, up and down, to make sure his quadriceps muscles didn't atrophy. He then began working in a pool, running and jumping, and he spent part of the offseason working out at Athletes' Performance in Florida.

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When Washington arrived in Seattle following the trade, his daily grind featured sled-pushing and repeated climbs up the steep hill next to the Seahawks' practice fields.

Washington was brought along slowly during training camp, but he got into games and went for a TD run in Seattle's second preseason contest, celebrating by running with his arms out -- like a jet -- to let everyone know he was flying again.

That was just the precursor to Sunday's heroics. Washington gave Seattle a 17-0 lead by fielding the second-half kickoff 1 yard deep in the end zone, then racing nearly untouched to the other end zone -- the longest return in team history.

Then, after San Diego rallied for a 20-20 tie, Washington took Nate Kaeding's kickoff at the 1, briefly was caught in a pile, then popped free, shook Kaeding and was off for the end zone again.

Just before the second return, Seahawks special-teams captain Roy Lewis told Washington he'd meet him at the goal line. True to his word, Lewis was there as his escort for the final few yards.

"He told his story around, and guys understood," Lewis said. "It's a healing process, a learning process, as far as him getting back to being 100 percent. He's doing a helluva job. If he isn't 100 percent, he damn sure looked like it on Sunday."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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