Kicking field goals on first down? Punting on third down? Giving an opponent two points instead of punting from inside one's own five-yard line? Here are a few ways that the NFL's kicking game can be used to outsmart an opponent... or just outsmart oneself.
When is it a good idea to surrender points? Some folks would argue that it's a brilliant strategy when trying to change field possession late in a game. A team that's pinned back deep in their own territory will occasionally snap the ball out of the end zone or have their punter run out of the end zone. While this gives the opponent two points, it gives the punter 20 additional yards on the ensuing safety punt.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick utilized this strategy in a regular-season contest against the Denver Broncos in 2003. The Patriots were pinned inside their own one-yard line with 2:49 remaining. The Broncos were winning 24-23 before the Patriots deliberately took the safety.
While the Broncos got two points, the Patriots were rewarded with punting room and pinned the Broncos inside their own 20-yard-line. The Broncos would go three-and-out. Tom Brady would orchestrate a game-winning touchdown drive that gave the Patriots a 30-26 victory.
The drop kick is another form of a field-goal kick that requires that a kicker allows the ball to bounce off the ground before he kicks it. It's considered as a riskier alternative to the regular methods for place kicks, field goals and extra points. Rules changes and modifications to the football have essentially eliminated this play from being used.
New England Patriots reserve quarterback Doug Flutie converted an extra-point attempt via a drop kick in the 2005-06 regular-season finale on January 1, 2006. This was the NFL's first successful drop-kick attempt since the 1941 NFL championship on December 21, 1941, just two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Here is a quick video of the feat.
Fair Catch Kick
The fair catch kick is an alternative to a field goal that can be exercised after a team calls for a fair catch. There are a few advantages to attempting this over a field goal. The opposing team isn't permitted to defense the kick as they must remain ten yards behind the kicking spot. The kicking team doesn't have to snap it seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. The kicker also gets a running head start that's similar to a kickoff. A fair catch kick can be rewarded with no time remaining in the half.
The last attempted fair catch kick occurred when Mason Crosby barely missed a 69-yard kick before the end of the first half in a game against the Detroit Lions in 2008. The last fair catch kick that was knowingly converted was in 1976. Ray Wersching of the San Diego Chargers converted on a 45-yard attempt against the Buffalo Bills to conclude the first half.
Retreat Punt (Third-down Punt)
Let's get dangerous! Or stupid, I don't care.
The retreat punt (third-down punt) is a method of winning the field-possession battle by catching the defense off-guard on third down. Randall Cunningham and John Elway were two of the most well-known quarterbacks who showcased their punting ability on third downs.
The idea of a retreat punt is that the offense finds themselves in a third-and-20+ scenario. They're deep inside their own territory and don't have enough confidence to get the first down. They line up in an offensive formation and attempt to catch the defense off-guard by punting with their quarterback (or get real fancy by putting Chad Ochocinco in a wildcat formation and doing it; you get the picture).
The defense won't have anyone ready to field the punt. A defense that's unprepared but senses such trickery may be forced to burn a timeout. They could also try to field it with a defensive back who isn't as experienced with catching punts. That would increase the likelihood of a botched catch and potential fumble recovery for the kicking team.
The hope is that the ball takes a favorable bounce for the kicking team. Cunningham had a 91-yard punt that completely switched field possession. Of course, whoever punts the football must have respectable leg strength and accuracy. One can't put the punter out there or it'll be too noticeable.
Today, any NFL team that would attempt this unorthodox strategy would probably be crucified by the media and fans. This can still be seen during high school games.
Joshua Huffman graduated from Middle Tennessee State University as a marketing major in 2009. He's been a Middle Tennessee resident from 1986-1988 and 2001-present. He lived in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin from 1988-2001 and for approximately eight months in 2009-2010 while completing a 20-game volunteer position with the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers. His favorite sports organizations include the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Cubs, and Nashville Predators. He also follows the Tennessee Titans, his favorite AFC team.
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