Monday, December 29, 2008

Matt Cassel's Quick Kick

Yes, Virginia, it's possible to lose all sixteen games in an NFL season (thanks to the sacrificial Lions who taught us that yesterday).

And yes, Virginia, it's possible to win eleven games and still not make the playoffs (And really, I hope someone in San Diego or Arizona feels at least a little bit guilty).

And yes, once again, it really is possible to punt in a non-fourth down setting, as Matt Cassel expertly reminded us yesterday during the Pats' shutout of the Bills.

So here was the situation: It's third-and-eight. The Pats have the ball on their own 41 as the fourth quarter is winding down and a two-score lead to protect. What does Bill Belichick decide to do?

Rather than make the umpteenth up-the-middle dive that would not likely yield eight yards, or risk throwing the ball on the windiest day of the year, the Pats' coach yanked out the old "quick kick" from the playbook in order to try to bury the unexpecting Bills deep in their own territory.

So, from the shotgun, the former high school punter Matt Cassel boomed a 57-yard punt (well, 57 with the healthy Pats' roll), which a gaggle of guys in white jerseys downed on the two yard-line before stopping the Buffalo offense and securing the win.

I've seen a bunch of online comments of the "Why-the-heck-would-you-give-the-ball-up-on-third variety" which is at least (slightly) better than people trying to argue that "there's no such thing" as a third-down punt.

By doing it, you benefit massively from the element of surprise. Your opponent's lack of preparedness means you have a great chance to set your defense up with wonderful field position, or, better yet, to yield a turnover deep in enemy territory should anyone on the other team touch, but not recover, the ball. On a very non-offensive day (such as yesterday where only 13 total points were scored) that can be a very good thing.

Bill Belichick will always be remembered as one of football's great coaches not just for the results his squads have posted but because he's a true student of the game who relishes in the wonderful opportunities presented by things like unexpected fourth-down plays from scrimmage, fake special teams plays, unusual formations, and yes, the occasional quick kick.

Somewhere yesterday, John Elway and Randall Cunningham had to be smiling.

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