Tag Archives: punters

Punters throwing postseason TD passes

Sorry to be bringing this to your attention so late. Things get a little backed up sometimes at Pro Football Daly. Still, I hope you’ll be amused.

In the NFC title game, you may recall, Seahawks punter Jon Ryan threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tackle-eligible Garry Gilliam — on a fake-field-goal play, no less — to kick-start Seattle’s comeback from a 16-0 deficit. Many news outlets reported, as ESPN.com did, that the TD toss “was the first by a punter in NFL postseason history.”

Oh, please. In all of NFL postseason history? All 83 years of it? You might want to do a little more research on that.

Here’s a punter throwing for the game-winning score in the 1937 title game, won by the Redskins over the Bears, 28-21. It’s Sammy Baugh, who doubled as a punter-quarterback in those multitasking days (as did many others). Baugh booted five of Washington’s seven punts that afternoon — with limited substitution, it was often a shared responsibility — and also had three touchdown passes (measuring 55, 78 and 35 yards).

And here’s another punter throwing the last of his five TD passes — then a postseason record — in the Bears’ 41-21 mauling of the Redskins in the ’43 championship game. I’m talking about Sid Luckman, who also punted three times that day.

And here’s another punter throwing a touchdown pass in the 1960 title game. That would be the Eagles’ Norm Van Brocklin, a Hall of Famer like Baugh and Luckman (and the league’s MVP that season). Van Brocklin was second in passer rating (86.5) and fifth in punting average (43.1) in ’60 to lead Philadelphia to its last NFL championship.

I could go on — YouTube has some great footage of the Packers’ Arnie Herber and the Rams’ Bob Waterfield doing the same thing — but I just wanted to make a point. Yes, Ryan might be the first punting specialist to toss a TD pass in the postseason, but he’s far from the first punter.

Danny White, for goodness sakes, did it in eight different games for the Cowboys in the ’70s and ’80s. In the 1980 playoffs against the Rams, he threw for three scores and averaged 44.5 yards a punt. That’s better than Ryan’s 42.4-yard average. In the ’42 title game, Baugh had a touchdown pass and averaged 52.5 yards a punt, including a 61-yarder on a quick kick. In the ’50 championship game, Waterfield had a TD pass and averaged 50.8 yards a punt. These guys weren’t punters by default or something. They could really boot the ball.

By my count, eight NFL players threw a touchdown pass in a postseason game — and also punted — before Ryan became the “first” to do it. Moreover, these eight accomplished the feat a total of 27 times. (I’m excluding John Elway, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady, who also pulled it off — in Elway’s case, on four occasions — but can’t be considered punters. Brady, by the way, did it on a night he fired six TD passes.)

Anyway, just wanted to clarify that. Congratulations, Jon Ryan. You made a nice throw, one that helped put your club in the Super Bowl. But don’t let anybody tell you an NFL punter had never done that before. Once upon a time, punters could walk and chew gum.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Seahawks punter Jon Ryan heaves a TD pass in the NFC title game vs. the Packers.

Seahawks punter Jon Ryan lobs a TD pass in the NFC title game vs. the Packers.

A quarterback crushes a 91-yard punt

Passing (for 207 touchdowns) and running (for 4,928 yards) are what Randall Cunningham will be most remembered for in his NFL career. But what happened Dec. 3, 1989 — 25 years ago today — shouldn’t be overlooked, either. That’s when he got off a 91-yard punt, the fourth longest in league history, to help the Eagles beat the Giants, 24-17.

We’re not talking about a quick kick, either, though Cunningham was helped by a 25 mph wind that gusted to 35. As you can see in this photo, it was a conventional punt, with him receiving the snap just inside the field of play.

Photo of Cunningham's punt

Here’s how The New York Times described it:

Early in the fourth quarter, the Giants almost broke the 17-17 tie when Erik Howard sacked Cunningham and drove him into the Eagles’ end zone. The officials spotted the ball on the 2-yard line, making it fourth down and 33 yards to go for a first down.

Usually, Max Runager would have punted for the Eagles. But Cunningham, an outstanding punter in college, told Coach Buddy Ryan of the Eagles he wanted to punt, and Ryan let him.

It was a good decision. The ball sailed to the Giants 39 and bounced to the 7 before an apparently baffled [Dave] Meggett picked it up and returned it 9 yards.

Two plays later, the Giants gave up the ball again. Golic sacked Simms and stripped the ball, and Mike Pitts recovered for the Eagles on the Giants’ 7-yard line. Three plays later, from the 2, Byars squirmed into the end zone for the winning touchdown.

And here’s how it looked in the play-by-play:Cunningham punt, 4th Q

Cunningham was, as the Times said, a very good punter at UNLV, an All-American who averaged 45.2 yards for his career. But by the late ’80s the NFL had become so specialized — and rosters so large — that position players weren’t needed to punt. A pity.

There were, after all, quite a few passer-punters in pro football’s early days, including Hall of Famers Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin. They grew up, remember, in the era of the single wing, and the best tailbacks were triple threats who could run, pass and kick. When Cunningham boomed his 91-yarder, though, the league hadn’t had a starting QB pull double duty since the Cowboys’ Danny White in 1984. We may never see another.

Oh, well. At least Randall reminded everybody of The Way It Used To Be. And if anyone needed a refresher course, he blasted an 80-yarder five years later. That one was a quick kick — out of the shotgun, on third and 12 from the Philadelphia 4.Cunningham's 80-yard quick kick, 1994

Something just dawned on me: Cunningham’s 91-yard punt was exactly 90 yards longer than the one Redskins QB Joe Theismann shanked against the Bears in 1985. Washington’s regular punter, Jeff Hayes, had just gotten hurt, and Theismann — who hadn’t punted in college — volunteered for the job.

Wisely, coach Joe Gibbs never gave him another opportunity. The boot, from right around the goal line, veered out of bounds at the Washington 14. The Bears scored on the next play and went on to win, 45-10.Theismann's 1-yard punt

“They told me to kick it right,” Theismann said, “and I did. Dead right.”

Source: pro-football-reference

NFL punters: To infinity and beyond

Since they just let Ray Guy into the Hall of Fame — and since the name of the game, after all, is football — why don’t we kick around the subject of punting for a while? So much has been made in recent years about the increasing infallibility of kickers, but punters, in my mind, have become just as proficient. It just doesn’t show up, in bright lights, on the scoreboard.

What steered me onto this topic was my growing awareness of Tress Way, the Redskins’ undrafted rookie from Oklahoma, who has been booting the bejabbers out of the ball. Through

Rookie Tress Way

Rookie Tress Way

six games, Way is averaging a league-leading 51.2 yards with a 41.9 net. That first figure, if it holds up, would be second best in NFL history, behind only Sammy Baugh’s 51.4 in 1940 (which was inflated by a fair number of quick kicks).

Way, moreover, has been remarkably consistent, averaging 47 yards or better in each of the first six games. Only three other punters since 1960 have done that — Shane Lechler (twice), Donnie Jones and Mat McBriar.

It’s stunning, really, how the performance of punters has improved in the past decade. The 2007 season was the turning point. That was the first time a punter had a net average of 40 yards for a full season — Lechler and Andy Lee both did, in fact — and seven that year had a gross average of 45 or more. Since then, the numbers have just gone up and up.

Consider: From 1940 (when the league first started keeping the stat) to 2006, an NFL/AFL punter averaged 45 yards gross for a season exactly 100 times (minimum: 20 punts). In the seven-year stretch from 2007 to 2013, it happened almost as often: 95 times. Two seasons ago, 21 punters averaged 45 yards gross and 15 averaged 40 yards net. That’s ridiculous — as the following chart shows.

NFL PUNTING PERFORMANCE, 1940-2013

Years 45 Gross 40 Net
1940-49         9 NA
1950-59         8 NA
1960-69         25 NA
1970-79         5 NA
1980-89         6 NA
1990-99         30 1*
2000-09         45 13
2010-13         67 42
2014         14 13

*Punted for only seven games. Note: Net average wasn’t computed until 1991.

Heck, the Colts’ Pat McAfee is netting 44.8 yards this season. If that were merely his gross average, It would be good enough to lead the league every year from 1974 to 1980.

There are all sorts of reasons why punters are kicking the ball to the moon these days. For one thing, some of them are bigger than their predecessors. (Let’s not forget: 5-foot-9, 168-pound quarterback Eddie LeBaron doubled as a punter for the Redskins in the ’50s.)

As Danny Smith, the Steelers’ special teams coach, once told me, “When you’ve got a big, strong guy, their misses aren’t [usually] terrible punts. They don’t kill you. Sometimes, if you have little guys — and everybody misses ’em — their misses can hurt you, field position-wise.”

There’s also been an influx of Australian punters, guys like McBriar and Darren Bennett, both of whom made the Pro Bowl, as well as Sav Rocca and others. “That [Australian rules] game is a kicking game,” Smith said. “You’ve got guys kicking on the run, booting the ball from weird positions, kicking under pressure . . . and developing tremendous leg strength. Then they get over here, of course, and it’s all about perfect drops and [staying] stationary, that kind of thing.”

Then, too, coaches seem increasingly inclined to let punters boot the ball as far as they can, instead of focusing on hang time or trying to angle it one way or another. Throw in refinements in technique, which are always being made, and you have Tress Way, a punter who averaged 44 yards for his college career, averaging 51.2 in his first six games as a pro — and nobody blinking an eye.

Sources: pro-football-reference.com, NFL.com.