By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
RENTON, Wash. (AP) - Leon Washington takes pride in owning a share of the NFL record for most career kickoff returns for a touchdown, especially considering the devastating broken leg he had to overcome before he could get there.
No disrespect to Cleveland's Josh Cribbs, but Washington wants to own the record himself.
"That's my goal. And to get it by a few so nobody can catch me," Washington said.
Washington pulled even with Cribbs last week when the Seahawks return specialist busted free for a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Seattle's 24-21 loss to Miami.
It was his first kickoff return for a touchdown in nearly two calendar years since he took three back for touchdowns in his first season with the Seahawks in 2010. But that was before kickoffs were moved up to the 35-yard line and returns became less common.
How much so? In the 2010 season, when Washington took two kickoffs back for touchdowns against San Diego and one later in the season against San Francisco, he had 57 total kickoff returns, the most of his career. Last year, that number dipped to 43.
Through 11 games this season, Washington has brought the ball out of the end zone just 18 times. Yet for most of the season, Washington and Seattle special teams coach Brian Schneider have felt the return game was on the verge of a breakthrough.
They just would have preferred it was part of a Seattle victory.
"During the bye week we did a tremendous job of identifying what we do best and getting back to that," Washington said. "... You look at the play, you get a hole that big something has to be happening right. It was good to see us go out and execute."
Despite his limited number of chances, Washington is third in the NFL, averaging 31.9 yards per kick return, which if it continues would be the highest return average of his career. He's never topped the 27.5 he averaged in his second season with the New York Jets and the success this season could be another sign that Washington is fully back from the broken leg he suffered in 2009.
Washington still remains grateful to Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider for making the trade that brought him to Seattle during the 2010 draft and gave him a second chance after his injury.
"It's special in the sense that seeing where I came from, four touchdowns with the Jets, four touchdowns with the Seahawks coming after a devastating broken leg. So it just goes to show the fortitude that you have to have to come back from that and also the opportunity that you have to have," he said. "What Pete Carroll and John Schneider (did) trading to bring me over here and give me an opportunity was huge."
The Seahawks go to Chicago this week, but there won't be a matchup of two of the most dynamic kick returners in football – Washington and the Bears' Devin Hester – because Hester is out with a concussion. Washington, though, understands how important special teams could be in a game that's of huge importance to both teams.
Seattle is trying to hold on to the final wild card spot in the NFC, while the Bears are just one game ahead of Green Bay in the NFC Central.
"That's what it's going to come down to, who can win the field position battle, who can give their offense better room to work with and who can give their defense a better field to work with," Washington said. "Having a big special teams play could be huge for both sides."
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