The St. Louis Rams recent history is full of exciting special teams plays. Last year, they scored two punt return touchdowns – conventionally and unconventionally. This year, punter Johnny Hekker’s fake punt scramble drill against the Green Bay Packers took lemons and made them into lemonade.
Time stood still. The ball hung in the air as the 25-year-old punter watched it sail downfield for what seemed like an eternity. The fans slowly stood as one, their mouths gaping as they watched the ball’s majestic flight through the air.
All of this excitement over a punt?
Nope, just Rams punter Johnny Hekker pulling off one of the most unlikely fake punts in recent history.
With 6:33 remaining in the third quarter, the Rams trailed the Packers 21-10. Unable to get their offense going, St. Louis was in danger of stalling out on their second consecutive drive to start the second half. Facing 4th & 2, Hekker and the punt unit headed onto the field with the ball at the St. Louis 43-yard line:
Hekker (#6) sets up with his heels at his own 29-yard line. Across the line of scrimmage, the Packers show eight men tight to the line, suggesting they are coming for a block. Had Green Bay shown men off the line, personal protector Chase Reynolds (#34) would have likely called off the fake. But the defense displayed by the Packers allows the Rams to continue their ruse:
Hekker takes the snap and immediately pivots in place, looking to his right. Reynolds is the clear target here, as he has taken a route to the right flat and is looking back for the ball. However, Green Bay reacts quickly, diagnosing the play, and covering Reynolds. Does Hekker panic?
Like any good punter, he keeps a cool head in times of crisis. Neither snow, nor defenders, nor low snaps, nor covered receivers, delays these punters from the swift completion of their appointed duties.
Hekker rolls out to his right and begins the punter equivalent of the scramble drill:
He spots Cody Davis (#38, yellow circle) ahead of him just outside the right hash. But Davis is covered tightly. Just inside the right hash, long snapper Jake McQuaide (#44, red box) is still locked up with his block. It will be the last move he makes on this play.
With three defenders bearing down on him, his pulse remains low. He keeps his head up, looking for a receiver. And just when is seems all hope is lost, Davis cuts back to the inside, putting his right hand up. Hekker spots him 15 yards downfield.
It will be the mightiest of throws for the punter. But he readily accepts the challenge and begins his throwing motion. Just outside the right hash, McQuaide has now lost his block and appears to be lost (red box) on the Rams 40-yard line.
Hekker lofts the ball into the air before being thrown to the ground. Laser-rocket arm? Maybe if the speed of light were 30-40% slower and the rocket were hamster-powered. But the placement. Oh, the placement.
The Green Bay defender (yellow circle) falls down on the cut by Davis is out of position to make a play on the ball. Davis is wide open coming back to the right hash. McQuaide* (red box) continues to watch from the same spot on the St. Louis 40-yard line, as Davis hauls in the 20-yard pass from Hekker:
Davis dives and grabs the ball, surrounded by three Packers. Fans expect to see quarterbacks and wide receivers complete the scramble drill effectively, but not punters and backup safeties. This was textbook execution of a broken play, and an outstanding job by both Hekker and Davis at staying cool in a bad situation and making a positive play out of it.
While the Rams would go on to lose to Green Bay, this was another tremendous play for the St. Louis special teams unit, and indicative of their strong coaching and great execution in this phase of the game.
[Editor’s Note: McQuaide did leave the field at the end of the play. He was not, in fact, rooted in place.]
Follow Chuck on Twitter @ITP_ChuckZ.
Chuck Zodda knows the importance of staying in your lane, how to fake a punt return, the humanity of punters, proper placekicking technique and the Jets.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.