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Reversal of fortune: Thrash has special week

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) _ A week ago, James Thrash was in the headlines as the culprit on an illegal motion penalty that cost the Washington Redskins a chance to win a game.

This week, he's the NFC's special teams player of the week. He set up a field goal with a 43-yard punt return and played a role in downing three punts inside the 3-yard line in a 17-10 victory at Detroit.

Maybe it was the football gods shining down on him,'' center Cory Raymer said.It couldn't happen to a better guy.''

Thrash performed an amazing trifecta. He downed a punt at the 1, then tiptoed along the goal line to bat two more punts away from the end zone. They were downed by teammates at the 2- and 3-yard lines.

It was a performance that validated all those weird drills in training camp, when special teams coach Danny Smith would have his punt coverage team bat volleyballs around the goal line during practice.

We joked around about it,'' Thrash said.But we definitely feel it helps us gunners learn how to down the ball.''

That's about the most colorful thing Thrash has to say. After eight years in the league, he still ranks as one of the modest interviewees in sports.

Asked which was better, the punt return or downing the punts, he said: ``Neither, to be honest with you. Getting the win was the biggest for us.''

Asked to compare his publicity this week to last, when his penalty cost the Redskins a go-ahead touchdown against Green Bay, he said: ``The call was questionable, but we don't live in the past. We'll just continue to move forward and continue to try to win.''

Thrash has only six receptions all season on offense and has lost the No. 3 receiving spot to Taylor Jacobs.

Thrash owes his NFL career to special teams. He was a marginal training camp player for the Redskins in 1997 when he unexpectedly earned his way onto the roster by returning two kickoffs for touchdowns in exhibition games.

In 2001, he was ready for the big time, signing a five-year contract with Philadelphia to become a starting receiver for Donovan McNabb. But Thrash's numbers were never better than decent with the Eagles, and he and Todd Pinkston were soon nicknamed ``Stinkston and Trash.'' Philadelphia traded Thrash back to Washington this year for a 2005 fifth-round draft pick.

Although he's not a starter with the Redskins, Thrash said he's more content in Washington than he would be in Philadelphia. He and his family continued to live near Redskins Park in the offseason, even when he was playing for the Eagles.

``I feel like this has always been our home,'' Thrash said.

Thrash might not talk about himself in glowing terms, but Joe Gibbs does. The coach said Thrash and Jacobs, who blocked a punt against the Lions, were studying film on their own at 8 o'clock the night before the game.

I think James fills a valuable role,'' Gibbs said.First of all, he is not selfish. He will do whatever it takes for the team. There is an example of a guy who is a receiver, and most of the time you would think he is going to get excited catching balls, that he's not going to be excited about covering punts and kickoffs.''

But special teams is where he thrives. Thrash had three special teams tackles in the Detroit game, giving him 19 on the season. He is now the primary punt returner following a season-ending injury to Chad Morton.

When he became available, everybody in here said the same thing: 'He's a Redskin. You need to get this guy,' Gibbs said.

As for Thrash, there'll be no crowing over his special teams award. The certificate, signed by commissioner Paul Tagliabue, is already covered by a bunch of other stuff sitting at the bottom of a cubby hole in his locker.

As he walked away from the locker, Thrash was congratulated for keeping his string of humble interviews intact.

He flashed a big, warm smile.

``I certainly appreciate that,'' he said.

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