FOXBOROUGH - As is the case with all things of sudden impact on the gridiron, Kelley Washington said it all happened so quickly.
There was the snap of the ball, followed by his hard rush off the left edge of the Jets' punt formation, all culminating with Washington's block of Ben Graham's punt in the second quarter of Sunday's 20-10 Patriots victory.
The whole sequence seemed to unfold just like that.
Bing, bang, boom, block.
"Well, it just happened so fast, but I was able to get a really good rush on my guy, and before you know it, I was so deep in their backfield it actually hit me on my [right] forearm," Washington said yesterday as he and his teammates prepared for tomorrow's visit from the Miami Dolphins.
"It was one of those things where our rush worked out and I was able to get really close to their punter and block it," added the fifth-year wide receiver out of the University of Tennessee. "It's one of those things that doesn't really happen that often because there's so much emphasis on not letting a punt get blocked."
Washington's feat is rare around these parts. The last time the Patriots turned the trick was Dec. 19, 1999, when Larry Whigham blocked Philadelphia's Sean Landeta in a 24-9 victory over the Eagles at Veterans Stadium. But Washington's play wasn't a simple matter of happenstance.
"We work really hard in practice and [special teams coach] Brad [Seely] has really gotten on us about improving, and I think each week we've kind of improved," Washington said. "We've done what we needed to do to help the offense and defense win games. Last week was just an opportunity where we had a chance, as a corps, to make a couple of plays and we did."
More important, though, was the impact Washington's block had in the game. It led to Laurence Maroney's 1-yard TD run that enabled the Patriots to take a 17-7 halftime lead after David Bowens had blocked a Chris Hanson punt and returned it 26 yards to pull the Jets within 10-7.
"He's been a real consistent player for us," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Washington, an athletic wideout who signed as an unrestricted free agent after spending the first four years of his career with the Bengals.
"[He] plays to his size. He's a big kid [6 feet 3 inches, 215 pounds] who plays physical and runs well and is very athletic," Belichick added. "Just even on the [blocked] punt last week, a lot of guys wouldn't have made that play. Even if they had been there, they would have missed the ball. Kelley has good hand-eye coordination, good athletic ability and balance, and it was a pretty good athletic play just to get his hand on it."
Washington's hand-eye coordination was honed, in part, by playing 295 minor league games over four seasons in the Florida Marlins' system, where as a righthanded-hitting infielder he batted .213 for his career with nine homers and 98 RBIs. But his biggest claim to fame was that he was a roommate of Red Sox ace Josh Beckett and Denver Broncos wideout Javon Walker.
"He was an older kid that had been in baseball - I forget what it was, two or three years in baseball - and then came back to Tennessee and then finished," Belichick said. "He was maybe 23 or 24 when he came out."
After giving baseball its due diligence, Washington enrolled at Tennessee as a 22-year-old and caught 70 passes for 1,080 yards and seven TDs. He left after his sophomore season to enter the NFL draft and was selected by the Bengals in the third round (65th overall).
When he signed with New England March 13, the same day as his former college teammate Donté Stallworth, Washington had hopes of becoming a regular member of Tom Brady's receiving corps.
"Again, my first goal was to just make the team," Washington said. "Of course, I'd like to play more offense, but there's only so many balls to go around and this is my role right now and I enjoy it. I enjoy just contributing to the team and helping them win."
Even if it means risking injury to his hands while playing special teams.
"You don't play this game scared, it's just a part of your job when you play special teams," Washington said. "I don't think I've ever experienced my hands and thumbs being so jacked up and sore, but that's just part of getting the job done. When you've got an opportunity to go out there and play, you've got to do what you've got to do.
"I'm really enjoying it. Again, coming in, I thought I was going to be one of those receivers who helped out, but that's not the way it worked out. But I've really loved coming in and playing special teams and helping.
"To me, just being an athletic guy out there, it's almost like playing offense because sometimes you get one-on-ones and you can make plays tackling, whether it's playing gunner or blocking a punt. There's plays to be made out there on special teams."
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.