ASHBURN, Va. – Brandon Banks sat in his apartment alone, watching the Washington Redskins lose to the St. Louis Rams.
One week later, in his first time he touched the ball in an NFL game, Banks returned a punt 53 yards to set up the first touchdown as the Redskins seized early momentum in their win Sunday over the Philadelphia Eagles.
"It was a blow. It was kind of disappointing," Banks said Monday, recalling his solitary afternoon in front of the television set. "But I just kept faith in God, and my father talked to me, and I just waited for my opportunity."
While there was never any doubt Donovan McNabb would be in the spotlight in his return to Philadelphia, the odds were much less to expect Banks and Ryan Torain to play such significant roles in an early-season NFC East win. Torain began the season on the practice squad and could now be the No. 1 running back, depending on the severity of Clinton Portis' groin injury, while Banks returned from a practice squad demotion to show he could be the solution to the team's long search for a steady and versatile return man.
"It's out of control. It's a roller coaster. But at the end of the day, I just knew that hard work was going to pay off, and I just kept pushing through everything from minicamp to training camp to practice squad to being ready for when the coach asked me to come up and help."
That was Torain speaking, but it have easily been either player.
There are players who spend a year or two on practice squads without ever seeing the light of day of the 53-man roster, but coach Mike Shanahan really means it when he says he actually has a 61-man roster — including the eight players who practice during the week yet technically aren't members of the team.
Torain looked strong in preseason, but the Redskins already had veteran Larry Johnson pegged to back up Portis. Shanahan, therefore, took a small gamble: He waived Torain, hoping no other team would claim him, and placed him on the practice squad.
The coach was hoping other teams would shy away from Torain because of an injury history that includes a torn ACL. Also, it's not as if Torain has a stellar resume: His NFL experience consisted of two games with the Shanahan-coached Denver Broncos in 2008, when he was a rookie fifth-round draft pick.
"We knew we'd bring him up" eventually, Shanahan said. "We would have been heartbroken if somebody had took him."
Practice squad players can attend home games, so Torain was in the stadium when the Redskins hosted Dallas and Houston in Weeks 1 and 2.
"Every time I sat up there and checked it out, it just made me hungry," Torain said. "Made me excited, made me want to work harder because I was right there. I definitely had a good time on the practice squad, but there's a main goal to be on the roster."
Soon Johnson was cut, and Torain was promoted on the eve of the Redskins' Week 3 game at St. Louis. Torain had seven carries for 46 yards against the Rams, then ran 18 times for 70 yards in the 17-12 win over Philadelphia. He scored on a 12-yard run — set up by Banks' big punt return — and got as much praise for bowling over Eagles safety Quintin Mikell as for actually reaching the end zone.
"Man, I've got to get some more of those," said Torain, referring to the hit — not the touchdown. "I got to keep it up."
Portis injured his groin against the Eagles and underwent an MRI on Monday. Even if Portis is fine, Torain's spot on the roster is now secure.
"I guarantee," Shanahan said, "he will not be put on the practice squad the rest of this season."
The same might soon be said of Banks. The Redskins had only 1 yard in punt returns for the entire season before the 53-yarder Sunday. He then had two more returns for 16 and 6 yards.
Banks mixed big-play ability with a knack for fumbling during the preseason. The undrafted rookie from Kansas State made the 53-man roster at the start of the regular season but was inactive for the first two weeks. Then he was demoted to the practice squad to make room for Torain just before the Rams game, then was promoted back to the main roster just before the Eagles game, having done enough work in practice to persuade Shanahan that the fumblitis had abated.
"A great motivating factor for a guy like Brandon," Shanahan said, "is you tell him if he does fumble it, he's cut."
Shanahan smiled after saying that, but that's no joke for a player who a week ago was watching the game on TV.
"Once I got back," Banks said, "I made the best of it."
Notes: Shanahan said McNabb was "not thinking" when the quarterback ran out of bounds at the end of an 18-yard run while the Redskins were trying to ice Sunday's game in the final minutes. "If he had to do it over again, he would have slid there," Shanahan said. McNabb hurt his quad on the play and was getting treatment Monday, but the injury doesn't appear to be serious. ... LT Trent Williams missed his second straight game with knee and toe injuries, but he looks set to return next week against Green Bay. "I would be surprised if he's not ready to practice on Wednesday," Shanahan said. ... Shanahan said DL Albert Haynesworth had his best game of the season, playing about 30 plays and drawing a couple of holding calls. "The more he plays like that, the more he'll play," Shanahan said. ... The Redskins are tied for first place in the NFC East at 2-2, but their 2-0 record in division games gives them an early advantage over the three other teams. "If you win your division, you're guaranteed a home playoff game," Shanahan said. "What better way to start the postseason that with a game in your backyard?" ... The Redskins are outscoring teams 60-27 in the first half, but they're getting outscored 52-13 after halftime.