In a season when Tony Romo has broken his collarbone twice and completed just two of the four games he started, and the offense is averaging just 18.5 points per game, the Cowboys can use all of the offensive help they can get.
Whitehead played his best game of the season in the 19-16 win over the Redskins, making big plays the Cowboys’ offense and special teams have been lacking all season.
Whitehead’s 46-yard kickoff return with 46 seconds left gave the Cowboys the field position they needed to set up kicker Dan Bailey’s game-winning 54-yard goal with nine seconds left.
Whitehead took the kick two yards deep in the end zone and returned it aggressively up the middle. He eluded one defender, squirted through a hole and nearly broke free from a scrum and went all the way for a touchdown. Maybe he would have if he hadn't wrapped the ball up with two hands.
“Some of those runs he had on offense were big plays for us,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The return, obviously, was huge and the awareness he had in that situation was important.
“Sometimes, you can forget what’s most important. The ball is what’s most important. He did a good job securing the ball, so we could maximize the opportunity."
The Cowboys have been using Whitehead on reverses much of the season, and he’s averaged 10.3 yards on seven carries. He had runs of 13 and 22 yards against the Redskins. His 22-yard run around left end -- he almost broke that one for a touchdown, too -- set up a 20-yard field goal by Bailey that tied the game at 9-9.
Whitehead has taken on a role similar to the one Lance Dunbar had earlier in the season before a knee injury landed the running back on injured reserve. He’s a speed player who can create mismatches.
“We’re not necessarily doing the same kinds of things with him but he’s providing a little bit of a spark for us and he's a damn good player," Garrett said. "He plays hard, he plays fast and he’s maximizing his opportunity. He’s added a lot to our offense and our team."
Whitehead’s night could’ve been even bigger. He returned Washington’s first punt of the game 29 yards to the Washington 39-yard line, but a penalty for too many men on the field negated it.
He returned the next punt 26 yards, but a holding penalty by Devin Street negated it.
He’s averaged 6.0 yards on 10 punt returns with a long of 18, but he has a burst and acceleration that Cole Beasley doesn’t have. He’s a big play waiting to happen. The issue is trust.
The coaching staff has complete confidence that Beasley will make good decisions, catch the ball and not fumble it during a return. They don’t have the same feeling about Whitehead.
Their trust is growing, though. When an opponent is not trying to pin a punt deep in Cowboys territory, Whitehead usually gets the chance to return it.
“Lucky has done a really good job for us. You talk about playing with the right spirit. Ever since he got here, you never felt like it was too big for him,” Garrett said. “He came here with a competitive spirit and competitive nature that’s allowed him to have the success he’s had up to this point."