BEREA - A trip to Honolulu will be on the line Sunday at The Meadowlands.
Cleveland`s Joshua Cribbs and New York`s Leon Washington are the AFC`s leading kickoff returners and will square off for a Pro Bowl spot when the Jets host the Browns. Cribbs leads the NFL with a 31.2-yard average, followed by Washington at 30.6. Washington has three touchdowns on kickoff returns; Cribbs has two.
"And a lot of possibles," he added.
Cribbs has 100- and 99-yard touchdowns in addition to returns of 85 and 50 yards. His goal all season has been to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and this is the final game before the votes are due. Only one returner makes it from the AFC.
"It is a big matchup," said Cribbs, who ranks sixth in the NFL with an 11.6 punt return average. "I`d be a fool to say I don`t see personal gain from this game. I`m just concentrating on winning. We have a chance to do something great on this football team and whatever I have to do to contribute to that, whether it`s outshining him or doing well individually, I will."
Cribbs (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) has the size and experience advantage on Washington (5-8, 202). Cribbs is in his third year returning kickoffs, while Washington didn`t move into the role until this year, his second in the league.
"He`s a very talented athlete, the same type of guy I am," Cribbs said.
Washington`s touchdowns are for 98, 98 and 86 yards. He also has three from his running back spot and averages 8.1 yards on punt returns.
"I don`t look at stats. I look at tape, and on tape I see a guy who`s elusive and fast," said Darnell Dinkins, a member of the Browns coverage unit. "If you don`t take him into consideration, he`ll score quick."
Since Mike Westhoff took over as special teams coordinator in 2001, the Jets have a league-high 10 kickoff returns for touchdowns. Justin Miller returned one 99 yards vs. the Browns last year on his way to the Pro Bowl. He got hurt this year and Washington stepped right in.
"Leon`s a dangerous returner with good skills," Browns special teams coordinator Ted Daisher said. "If he gets to the seam he can make the big play. He`s a tough guy for being a smaller-built guy.
"We`re going to have to play our very best to keep them contained and under control."
Cribbs will play a significant role there, as well. He leads the Browns with 17 special teams tackles and was added to the Pro Bowl ballot in the special teams category as well as the returner category after a petition by the Browns.
"I don`t think I`ve ever seen anybody that can return kicks and punts like him, who can cover kicks and punts like him," Daisher said. "From my perspective, there is no one who can do all the things that Josh can do."
Former Buffalo Bill Steve Tasker was a coverage specialist, but he didn`t return kicks like Cribbs can. Then there`s Bears return specialist Devin Hester, who has five touchdowns this year.
"Devin Hester is phenomenal," Daisher said. "I`ve yet to see Devin Hester go down on a kickoff and hit the wedge right in the mouth."
That`s something Cribbs does routinely, as well as fill the gunner role on punt coverage.
"He`s fearless," Daisher said. "He`s a very unique guy."
Cribbs didn`t get much of a chance to return kickoffs last week, as the Cardinals chose to kick high and short and let somebody else handle the ball. The strategy limited Cleveland`s big plays, but consistently gave the Browns the ball near the 35-yard line.
"We`ll kick the ball in different ways - we`ll kick it to him, we`ll kick it away from him," Daisher said of Washington. "You kick it to wherever you think you have your best chance of being successful."
"We`ve been doing well as a whole on the kick cover unit," Cribbs said. "We`re pretty solid. We`re really not afraid of anyone."
Cribbs entered the week second to New England`s Wes Welker in fan voting for returner, but Cribbs and Washington are likely to move ahead when the players and coaches vote next week. Welker isn`t the Patriots` primary kickoff returner and ranks behind Cribbs in punt returns.
The Pro Bowl roster won`t be announced until Dec. 18, but one spot will be decided Sunday by 7:30.
"I have a confidence," Cribbs said. "It`s a standard. And if we keep up to the standard, I will be in the Pro Bowl. The best man will be in the Pro Bowl whether it`s him or me."
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.