On the 39th punt return of his pro career, KaVontae Turpin thought he had finally broken one off.
The Cowboys speedster had first shown off his formidable skills in 2022’s preseason with two returns (one punt, one kickoff) for scores in an August outing against the Chargers. In that one exhibition performance, the USFL phenom solidified his spot on the Cowboys roster, but he also effectively alerted every other team in the league that kicking the ball to him at all is playing with fire.
And so after a season and a half of returning punts, the presumptive most dangerous return man in the game has just a 9.4-yard average… and zero touchdowns.
Thanks only to a penalty flag late in Sunday’s blowout win over the Rams.
Turpin’s electrifying end-zone dash was brought back on Nahshon Wright’s hold. The 87-yard house call instead went in the books as a harmless six-yard return.
And Turpin believes it may have just reminded upcoming Cowboys opponents- like the division-leading Eagles in Week 9- not to even crack the door open for him.
“Teams are still scared of me, so I don’t think I’ll get any more chances, to be real with you,” Turpin told reporters this week at The Star.
He may be right, at least this week.
A quick look at the Eagles’ season stats show a potential weakness in their punt coverage game. They’ve given up 14.7 punt return yards per game, fourth-highest in the NFL.
Arryn Siposs was Philadelphia’s punter for the first two weeks of the season. Five of his punts were returned for 40 total yards. But then Philadelphia made a quick change and brought in Braden Mann starting in Week 3. In the six games that followed, Mann has punted 10 times; only three were returned.
But those three returns all went for double-digit yards.
Granted, the Eagles famously don’t let Mann stray too far or too often from the sideline Gatorade table, what with all of their tush-pushing on fourth-and-short (or simply not getting themselves to fourth down in the first place).
When he does come on to boot it away, Mann tends to keep it away. But when there’s a return, there’s the potential for fireworks. If Turpin can get his hands on a punt with enough space to get even a couple steps, he could be racing all the way to the Rocky steps at some point Sunday.
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As long as the other 10 Cowboys special teamers can keep Lincoln Financial’s field a laundry-free zone.
“It’s frustrating because I don’t get too many chances in the return game,” Turpin admitted. “So when I do get a chance, I don’t want to see any flags, especially when I take it all the way.
“At the same time, I tell my guys to go out there and block as hard as they can. But that just comes with football. We’re going to get another chance sooner or later.”
The Cowboys are hoping for sooner.
We’ll see if Mann and the Eagles play ball.