Three onside kicks that did the trick on Sunday

Dec 22 2010 - 5:13pm

Three similar play calls. Three different settings. Three memorable results.

One crazy NFL Sunday.

The Philadelphia Eagles used their onside kick to keep alive the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in franchise history.

The Green Bay Packers used their onside kick to set the tone in an against-all-odds game at New England.

And the onside kick of the Jacksonville Jaguars? Scooped up and returned 41 yards for a touchdown by Indianapolis linebacker Tyjuan Hagler in a game that probably decided the AFC South.

"I just felt like it was an early Christmas," said Hagler, who delivered the decisive blow in a 34-24 victory by the Colts.

More on that play -- and the terrific coaching adjustment Indianapolis made -- in a moment. But first, the game that still had people buzzing Monday: the back-from-the-grave performance by the Eagles, who scored four unanswered touchdowns in the last half-quarter of a 38-31 stunner.

Seven minutes before DeSean Jackson drove a stake through the heart of the Giants by returning a punt for a touchdown as time expired, the Eagles tried an onside kick that caught the Giants snoozing.

There were 7 minutes 43 seconds on the clock, and Philadelphia had just scored to cut New York's lead to 31-17.

Giants Coach Tom Coughlin, instead of putting his "hands team" in to recover a possible onside kick, called on his regular return team -- one that even started to retreat the moment Philadelphia kicker David Akers made contact with the ball.

But Akers looped a high, short kick to the left that was recovered by Eagles receiver Riley Cooper. Coughlin later lamented that the Giants didn't even have anyone around the ball on the play, and Monday he still couldn't believe he was caught so flat-footed.

"There are plenty of sins to be distributed," Coughlin said a day later. "The sin that I'm going to throw in is that it's my decision whether or not we put the hands team out there."

Of the heartbreaking loss in general, one that handed control of the NFC East to the Eagles, Coughlin said: "We were all frustrated by it, we're all angry, we're all miserable, but as I told our team today, I'm proud of the way they prepared. . . ."

Preparation was the key on the onside kick in Indianapolis, as the Colts -- clinging to a three-point lead with 1:54 to play -- short-circuited Jacksonville's first kick attempt by calling a timeout just before kicker Josh Scobee made contact with the ball on a dribble up the middle. The Colts were outmanned at that spot on the field.

Figuring the Jaguars wouldn't attempt an identical middle kick, Colts Coach Jim Caldwell advised his players the kick was probably going to the right side. He was correct, and Hagler recovered the ball in stride. Like that, the game was over.

While that kick effectively ended a game, Green Bay's onside kick began one. The Packers, who were without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers (concussion), needed to do something dramatic to set the tone against New England, the AFC's hottest team.

Packers safety Nick Collins recovered the game-opening kick that Mason Crosby had dinked to the right. It's not often that Patriots Coach Bill Belichick is duped, particularly on his home field, but the Packers pulled it off.

"It had kind of been in the plan the whole week," Crosby told reporters. "We get the opening kickoff and try to steal a possession. You always come into a game looking for ways to steal possessions, especially against an offense like the Patriots'.

"It's just like any other scheme you have running, it's nice when you execute it. Especially the first play of the game, that can go one way or the other. That's a big energy booster."

Green Bay didn't get a touchdown on that drive -- it settled for a field goal -- nor did the Packers wind up winning the game. But by hanging tough in a 31-27 shootout, with the inexperienced Matt Flynn at quarterback, they proved that they're capable of playoff-caliber football.

Said Belichick on Monday: "I've got to do a better job in coaching the team and preparing them and making sure that plays like that and the onside kick and strip sacks and stuff like that -- that stuff can't happen.

"It can't happen or it will kill us."

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