Welcome to the Tuesday Fake Punt, your skip-through guide to the weekly NFL stories you might – or might not – be talking about.
Punter Takes It To The House!
Graham Gano’s all-epic 63-yard last-second game-winning field goal for Carolina highlighted an interesting fact. Along with Sebastian Janikowski and Dustin Hopkins, Gano is one of 3 former Florida State kickers leading their team in snaps. That’s 9.4% of “starting” kickers in the NFL are Florida State alums.
Is this the highest percentage of starters at any position to come from any single college in the NFL? I wondered whether ex-Alabama defensive tackles might come close – and they do, between Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Marcell Dareus, Jarran Reed and Dalvin Tomlinson. If A’Shawn Robinson was getting the snaps in Detroit, they’d (depending on how you classify who is what position) maybe be level? It’s probably one hell of a deep dive to find out if FSU kickers are the “best” college-position combo in today’s NFL. Interesting though! Right?
Punter Pass falls incomplete
So, how about the Bengals? Cincinnati’s comeback win over Miami on Sunday felt very much like Contenders beating Pretenders. The Bengals struggled early, but got more and more from more members of the roster as the game ticked on. Depth seems to be a key thing here – yes you know AJ Green, but Tyler Boyd is on track for a 1,250 yard season. Sure, Geno Atkins got a sack, but look at the contributions Cincy are getting from Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard. George Iloka and Reggie Nelson left in recent years? Here’s second-rounder Jessie Bates with a key interception.
Miami lack that depth, but – despite being 3-2 – they also lack top-end quality. Ryan Tannehill still fizzes inconsistently, but without producing enough of a highlight reel to get behind. They can’t get a complete game going – Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore ran well against the Bengals, but Albert Wilson led all wide receivers and tight ends with 43 yards on 5 catches. Miami look like one of those teams who’ve gotten as far as they can go and need a rebuild, which, when as far as you can go is maybe heading for an 8-8 season, is worrying in the extreme.
While we’re talking contenders coming out though, that New England performance on Thursday night didn’t bode well for the rest of the AFC. Yes the Pats aren’t fully clicking, but that result was never in doubt, even when the game was briefly one-score. With Julian Edelman back from a doping ban and straight into the team, suddenly that offensive balance is there. AFC front-runners like the Chiefs and Bengals should be nervous of the Patriots coming up on the shoulder.
Bomb Down The Sideline, 60-yard TD
Congratulations to Drew Brees on passing (ho ho) the record for NFL passing yards. Passing it with a lovely deep sideline ball to rookie wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith (himself having a breakout game) was great. And following it up with his should-be-All-Pro left tackle Terron Armstead, also fitting. Brees has made a career of making household names of othterwise unheralded wide receivers and enjoyed a fantastic offense line for much of his time in the Big Easy. He is, as you all know, a wonderful passer with great vision and touch. I’m not normally one for cheering records, especially in this era of record-breaking offenses. But it’s still great.
Brees is a New Orleans institution, not just a Saints one. I wrote a while back about how pivotal to both the city and the franchise that 2006 season when he arrived was. Rejuvinating a city. Getting it to engage with a franchise that the owner was probably trying to move out of town. Brees (like Payton, and Steve Gleason’s blocked punt and subsequent battle with ALS) are going to be inextricably linked with the team in perpetuity, and deservedly so. But just don’t forget that no great player is squeaky-clean. In Brees’ case? Lay off the pyramid schemes, old man.
Turnover on downs at midfield
Cleveland’s second win of the season had an interesting wrinkle: they’ve now had games finish the five possible ways for NFL games to finish. What does that mean? 1) Tie. 2) Loss in Regulation. 3) Win in Regulation. 4) Loss in Overtime. 5) Loss in Overtime. They’re the most watchable team in the league because their games are bonkers drama-fests. Which, heck, sport is entertainment, so we should probably just go with it.
Blocked Punt Returned For TD
Speaking of Cleveland (and I do often), Denzel Ward is already looking like a fantastic pick. Taking a defensive back in the top-5 is very rare indeed, but Cleveland are being rewarded big time. Ward recorded his third interception in 5 games. He already has a forced fumble, and even contributed on special teams by blocking a Justin Tucker field goal.
Denzel Ward (21) blocks a Justin Tucker field goal (AP)
Yes, the only elite player who can win you a game pretty much single-handed is still a quarterback. But Ward has changed the tenor of an otherwise talented secondary by looking like an instant top-10, shutdown corner. That makes things just a little bit easier for the rest of the defense – safeties don’t have to worry as much about the #1 receiver, other cornerbacks have slightly easier matchups, the pass rush has more time to get home. And now Cleveland have an absolutely epic defense. I guess the next step is to try and persuade Gregg Williams to stop blitzing so damn much. You have a Myles Garrett so you don’t have to do that, silly!
Guard Runs For 13 Yards, 1st Down
With the London games coming up, I’m excited to be co-hosting a tailgate party before the Titans-Chargers game at Wembley. If you’re in London prior to the Wembley game, come along to Bleecker Burger in the Bloomberg building (nearest tubes: Mansion House and Cannon Street) to enjoy actually good beers, really burgers, NFL and chat. There’ll be competitions, the chance to “ask an expert” about anything NFL, and we’ll even be recording bits for The Inside Zone podcast. So come along from 11am on Sunday 21 October. It’s an hour-ish to Wembley from there afterwards, so plenty of time to spend before the 2:30 kickoff. Looking forward to seeing you all there!
Fake punt of the week this week isn’t a fake punt. Sometimes, when things completely fail, they can be more entertaining than success. At least, that’s what Bills’ punter and holder Corey Bojorquez should be telling himself. It didn’t make a difference in the game as Buffalo squeaked past Tennessee. But Bojorquez picked up a shoulder knock to go with his red face. Still, it’s funny!