T.J. Conley was the iron and Marquice Cole was the pin. And the two were the main components last Sunday at Buffalo in the Green & White punt team’s equivalent of a hole-in-one.
“It all came together,” Conley said of his drop punt “fair-caught” by Cole at the Bills 1-yard line early in the third quarter. “It’s all feel, trying to get that perfect distance on it. It’s something that you practice over and over again.”
“That was more so T.J. than me, him knowing how much power to put into the ball, how much loft,” said Cole. “I’ve been running down on punts for a couple of years. Steve was real good at it last year. But T.J., I believe, in game situations he’s settling down and he’s been kicking a lot better.”
Especially with his inside-the-20 opportunities. Both Conley and Cole credit practice and repetition for Conley’s 14 I-20 punts this season, two more than Steve Weatherford has for the Giants in the same number of kicks.
“Coach Westhoff, you know how he is,” Cole said. “He’s going to drill that to death.”
No doubt that helped Weatherford enjoy one of the best inside-the-20 seasons in NFL punting history for the Jets in 2010, in fact equaling the league record of 42 I-20s. Nineteen of those were inside-the-10s, seven were inside-the-5s and two were downed at the opponents’ 1.
One thing T.J. hadn’t done yet as Weatherford’s successor was to pin an opponent inside the 5, let alone at the 1. Until Buffalo.
The Jets, not capitalizing on Joe McKnight’s 59-yard return with the second-half kickoff, brought Conley on to punt from the Bills 37. Using the pointy-end-down drop punt that Australian punters Darren Bennett to Ben Graham have specialized in and most NFL punters have adopted, Conley hung his punt high (not sky-high; it would eventually be timed at 4.55 seconds).
Meanwhile, Cole as the Jets’ right flyer was singled up against Drayton Florence. Cole took off down the outside, beat Florence downfield and slipped inside at the 5.
That was only half the battle.
“Every punt returner in the NFL is ridiculously talented,” Cole said. “One guy [Arizona rookie Patrick Peterson] last week had a 99-yard return. You can’t just ran down there looking to down the ball. You’ve got to respect that guy as a returner.”
Except in this case, Bills returner C.J. Spiller was correctly drifting forward from the 5 to the 10, faking his own fair catch and hoping that Cole didn’t know where the ball was and giving the pigskin a chance to bounce untouched in or into the end zone for the touchback.
No such luck. Cole saw the ball over his shoulder, knew he’d have a shot, sidled near the goal line, turned around and caught the ball for the “ace.” It was only the Jets’ third punt downed at the 1 since 2006. Before Weatherford’s two in ’10, we have to go back to Graham’s heyday. He had four such punts as a Jet, including three in a four-game span in his first NFL season (when he was a 32-year-old rookie fresh from the AFL) in 2005.
The next trick: some fancy pitch-and-punt at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night against the Patriots.
“I love to kick there,” Conley said. “It’s got to be the best stadium in the NFL. The fans are amazing, the whole atmosphere is just great. And it still has that new-car smell. It’s pretty awesome.”
If Conley, Cole, Kyle Wilson and the rest of the cover team can awesomely hem in Pats returners Julian Edelman and Wes Welker, that could go a long way toward making the Jets the leaders in the clubhouse around midnight.
*Special Teams Saturday.
Tags: Ben Graham, Buffalo Bills, C.J. Spiller, Drayton Florence, inside-the-20, Marquice Cole, Steve Weatherford, T.J. Conley
Posted in Randy Lange | 26 Comments »