The New York Jets traveled to Foxboro looking to take down the New England Patriots and move into first-place in the AFC East. Down by seven with less than a minute left, the Jets turned to an onside kick in an attempt to gain one last possession. Chuck Zodda breaks down how they successfully recovered the ball and set up one last drive.
With 18 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and trailing 30-23, the Jets sent out what can only be referred to as the most special of special teams units – the onside kick team. With kicker Nick Folk (#2) and punter Steve Weatherford (#3) set up between the hash marks, and using 5×5 kickoff alignment, the Jets had the option to kick to either side of the field:
The Patriots hands team, aware that both Folk or Weatherford could strike the ball, remain in place just behind the Jets 45-yard line. While the hands team will typically set up two-deep, with a first line on the 45-yard line and a second group of players on the 50, New England is forced to go only one-deep due to the dual-kicker alignment, as they must cover the entire field. This is critical to the outcome of this play.
As the play clock ticked down, Brandon Marshall (#15) ‒ aligned between the two specialists ‒ breaks for the far sideline as Folk approaches the ball:
Folk strikes it, aiming for the far sideline between the 45 and 50-yard line. The goal of an onside kick is to travel the minimum 10 yards so that the kicking team can recover – the key is to keep the ball close enough to not put the ball out of reach.
Folk’s strike does not utilize the technique we have become familiar with in modern placekicking – a ball driven down into the ground to produce a towering hop that can produce a jump-ball situation for the kicking team. Folk instead strikes at three-quarters speed through the center of the ball:
Folk has his plant foot behind the tee, rather than in line with it as per a more traditional technique. His head is back, behind his chest, indicating he is not attempting to keep his weight forward and over the ball to drive it down. Lastly, his knee locks at impact and stays back instead of remaining loose to keep the knee over the ball. This unorthodox approach may have surprised the New England hands team:
The ball squirts through the legs of Patriots LB Jamie Collins (#91), who was slow getting down to the nearly-rolling ball. The Jets quickly get a hand on the ball because Danny Amendola, the sole Patriot in the second line of defense on this side, was leaning toward the sideline initially:
Amendola’s weight moving to his right keeps him from getting back to the ball as it is redirected through Collins’s legs. There is no blame on Amendola in this situation, as he is forced to honor the initial trajectory of the ball. This is a ball that Collins has to recover, and Folk’s previous attempt this year against the Eagles showed a similar style of kick.
While the Jets were unable to capitalize on the recovery because of a later penalty on Marshall, this was a finely-executed operation by New York, and an area that will undoubtedly be worked on by New England during the short week heading into their Thursday night matchup against the Miami Dolphins.
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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.