Typically, the word "influential" isn't associated with an NFL punter. Those two terms are used in the same sentence about as often as "good" and "Jets."
Tress Way, however, is no doubt influencing the Washington Football Team in 2020. The specialist is top-five in gross punting average as well as net punting average, which means he kicking the ball really far and the returners on the other end of the exchange aren't doing anything with it after the catch.
In other words, he's doing his job really damn well.
Fans in the area and of the franchise have long appreciated Way, who went touchback-less in 2018 and earned the label of Pro Bowler in 2019. This is the first year that Ron Rivera's gotten to be around No. 5, though — and he's quickly figured out why the lefty is so beloved.
“First of all, it takes a little pressure off you in terms of decision making," Rivera said in a press conference on Monday. "But the beauty of a guy who can flip the field, can eliminate the possibility of a return, a big return — that’s impactful."
Take what Way did against the 49ers as proof that he's a legitimate weapon for Washington.
The defense, which scored twice and bogged down a typically-productive Kyle Shanahan system, got the bulk of attention for the Week 14 victory. Yet Way also contributed greatly, as he repeatedly shifted field position into the Burgundy and Gold's favor on an afternoon when the offense was dragging.
Just in case those words aren't selling you, these numbers will:
- First punt - 58 yards to SF's 24, fair catch
- Second punt - 55 yards to SF's 18, two-yard return
- Third punt - 48 yards to SF's 32, fair catch
- Fourth punt - 31 yards to SF's 8, fair catch
- Fifth punt - 54 yards to SF's 23, three-yard return
- Sixth punt - 54 yards to SF's 32, fair catch
- Seventh punt - 52 yards to SF's 38, 10-yard return
- Eighth punt - 46 yards to SF's 25, fair catch
Is there a Punting Museum somewhere on the planet? If so, screenshot the above section and send it there immediately.
Now, as Rivera put it on Monday and Way has touched on in the past, he's not the only one responsible for the special teams success. The rest of the coverage unit has to bring it as well, and that's just what they're doing, per Rivera.
"The guys that are playing our gunner position for us have been exceptional," he said. "They win a lot of the battles at the line of scrimmage, and they get downfield very quickly because they can run. ... Also, they get down there and they take the chance of getting balls that are coming within the 10 and get a chance to keep them out of the end zone. That, I think, is huge."
Add all of that up, and Rivera is now actively campaigning for Way to be named a Pro Bowler once more.
"I think he deserves it again,” he said.
Compliments aside, there is one aspect of Way's skill set that Rivera is skeptical of, and it's his hitting. In the second half of the matchup with the Niners, Way was a part of the crew who brought San Francisco's ball carrier to the ground.
As of Monday at noon, the coach had yet to pay close attention to that part of the film, and when he was asked about it, he had some fun.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t see the tackle," Rivera said. "Somebody told me he had made the tackle, and I had turned my back on it. I’m going to look this one up and see if I can see it. Until I do see it, it’s a myth."
Rivera may have turned his back during that sequence, but there's no ignoring Way's overall effectiveness. So when people mention how Washington has some of the top players in the sport at various spots — think Chase Young, Terry McLaurin and Brandon Scherff — don't leave Way off that list. He's a seriously vital piece of all this, too.