This season in the NFL has been ridiculous already. No, I’m not talking about the shambolic refereeing decisions; I am talking about the entertainment value. We have seen Jay Cutler shoulder his O Lineman in sulky fashion. We have seen Ponder embarrass the 49ers by beating them in week 3. We’ve seen the longest kickoff return in NFL history by Stefan Logan for the Lions. Drew Brees and the Saints are now at 0-3. But the area that most delighted me was the innovation this season by Special Teams.
Special teams get a bad rep in the League. Most people think that the players on special teams are a step below the regular team and a slight step up from the practice squad. To a certain extent, this may be true. But, there are some real specialists out there that continue to shine and have special teams to thank. Look at Darren Sproles and Devin Hester. They made their names playing special teams.
The first special team shocker came in the Green Bay and Chicago game. In what looked like a routine field goal attempt, Tim Masthay flipped the ball to back up TE Tom Crabtree who ran all the way to the house for a TD. Crabtree ordinarily would never get the field time and opportunities to perform a Lambeau Leap, but was a trusted ball carrier on this play. It is great to see that risk taking and innovation in special teams. So much more could be done on special teams and we may be seeing a shift in mind set around this area now.
The second fantastic bit of special team trickery came in the game between the Titans and the Lions this week. In the first quarter, the Lions punted the ball to the 40 yard line into the waiting arms of Darius Reynaud. Reynaud took a few steps in what looked like a routine return, but turned and flung the ball laterally across field to Tommie Campbell. Campbell then tucked the ball and ran for 6 points. Not only did the Titans Special Teams coach perform a bit of trickery on that play; he also reminded us of an almost identical play that the Titans performed back in 2000 dubbed the Music City Miracle.
It was a Wild Card Playoff game between the Titans and the Bills. Tennessee were trailing 15-16. It was the fourth quarter and there was only 16 seconds left in the game. The Bills took kickoff and the ball fell to Lorenzo Neal who handed off to TE Frank Wycheck. Wycheck then spiralled the ball across field to Kevin Dyson. Dyson then ran all the way down the left sideline to the endzone. It was incredible. With everything on the line, the Titans used special teams to win the game. It was later stated that it was simple used to try and get field position to allow the Titans an opportunity to kick the winning field goal. The play had to be reviewed to ensure that it was a lateral pass and controversy over this point still exists today. A computer simulation has since been created which showed that the ball did go backwards and so the refereeing decision to allow it stand was correct.
The play last night was certainly not a crunch fourth quarter play where a loss would have resulted in being knocked out in the Playoffs, but it was crucial in the end as the Titans went on the beat the Lions 44 – 41. This win might stand to the Titans later in the season too as they have some tough games coming up. They play division rivals Texans twice, the Bears, the Packers and Steelers. Let’s hope that this utilisation of special teams is seen more in the league. Not only is it highly entertaining, but it gives the NFL a whole new facet of tactical danger to deal with.