Punters are weird, weird people. Often employed as the holder for field goal and point-after attempts, they handle the ball more than most NFL players. So, when Brad Wing of the Pittsburgh Steelers bobbled the snap on a PAT attempt, it was nearly a disaster. But thanks to the inattentiveness of the Baltimore Ravens special teams, disaster turned into success.
Brad Wing has been my favorite punter for a while now. Specifically, he’s been my favorite punter for just over three years. Now, I know that there are a couple of things that are unusual about that sentence. First, that I actually have a favorite punter. You’ve got me there, I have no explanation that will make sense to reasonable human beings. And second, that I know the exact date where he became my favorite punter. And for that, I present this:
Yes, that’s right. Wing is the punter from Australia who received a taunting penalty after scoring on a faked punt for LSU in 2011, negating the touchdown. Come on, ref. Let the boys play. He’s a punter. He needs this.
Nowadays, Wing is the punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers ‒ and also the holder for their PAT/field goal unit. In Week 9, he finally got on the scoreboard, albeit in an unexpected manner. Put another shrimp on the barbie and watch as Wing goes from nobody to zero to hero, all in a span of three seconds.
In the Sunday night game on November 2, the Steelers took a 20-10 lead over the visiting Baltimore Ravens on a TD with 53 seconds left in the half. Out trotted the PAT unit, tasked with the most boring play in all of sports – a 20 yard chip shot from the center of the field that has a 99% chance of success. Well, guess who decided to be a one-percenter today? The 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The still below shows Wing and his mates lined up ready to kick:
Warren fires off the ball to the holder. The snap is solid, though potentially a little away from Wing’s body:
This snap rates somewhere around a B+. It’s like when you go out for a sandwich, and the chef comes through on the bread, meat, and veggies, but doesn’t give you the option for waffle fries on the side. It leaves just that little bit to be desired. It’s not a perfect snap, but it’s definitely a catchable ball and one that Wing should corral easily. The Aussie reaches out and while he does get his hands on it, he ends up trapping the ball against the ground:
As indicated by the yellow X, Wing has now placed an unkickable ball for Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham (#6). If Warren had a B+ on his snap, Wing’s hold grades somewhere around an F+. No, it’s actually an F-. An NFL-caliber holder should not have any trouble getting that ball down.
The animation below further illustrates Wing bungling the snap. Suisham stutter-steps twice before pulling up and deciding not to kick it:
At this point, Wing does the right thing and executes what is known as a “Fire” call. This involves repeatedly yelling, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” so the Steelers line understands that the play has broken down. Wing’s internal monologue may have been closer to, “Crikey!” or, “Oh, shit!”
Meanwhile, two Ravens defenders have dropped off the line of scrimmage. Circled in red, Albert McClellan (#50) and Brynden Trawick (#28) simply watch the play unfold as safeties. This is what is known as a “Field Goal Safe” defense. It puts very minimal pressure on the kicker, and looks to ensure that any fake or broken play by the kicking team has sufficient coverage. By them staying put, Baltimore has defenders in a position to cover a two-point conversion attempt.
The next still shows the play just after the fire call occurs:
Wing, the second Steeler from the top of the frame, has just grabbed the ball and is getting to his feet, desperately looking for a receiver. With the fire call made, Matt Spaeth (#89) should run a quick out to the flat on the left side of the screen. Jason Worilds (#93), an eligible receiver on the opposite side of the formation, should run the same pattern to the right. But McClellan and Trawick are in position to make a play on these receivers.
Brown, originally at the far right of the Ravens’ formation, has beaten his blocker around the edge. Upshaw, lined up third from Baltimore’s left pre-snap, flattened 6’7” Steelers tackle Mike Adams (#76) and made a diving block attempt at a kick that never came. Now, he has righted himself and is in pursuit of Wing with only Suisham in his path.
Worilds (red arrow at right), probably by virtue of being a defensive player, has completely forgotten his fire call responsibilities. Instead of running a route, he is doubling back towards the kicker. It is unclear what Worilds is trying to do, as he is on the opposite side of the formation from where Wing is rolling to, and he can neither catch a pass or make a block in this position. He is also being pursued by Trawick, who tracked his man perfectly:
Spaeth hears the fire call correctly and begins to flare out into the flat. Wing, who is still scanning for a receiver, has not yet noticed him. However, McClellan has not spotted him, either; he cannot take his eyes of Wing in the backfield. The defender is exposed, ball-watching, and unable to fulfill his responsibility. This allows Spaeth to get outside position and with a significant head start, he is wide open. Even a punter can throw this pass, resulting in the two-point conversion.
While the net result of this play is two points for Pittsburgh, it is clear that the battery for the Steelers failed to complete their routine assignments on this, the easiest of plays. Wing was able to create something out of nothing, which speaks to his ability to keep a cool head in the face of a play breaking down, but the Steelers should hope not to see this situation again.
All video and images courtesy NFL.com and NFL Game Rewind.
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