On this day six years ago, a Patriots offensive lineman made history with a 71-yard kick return against the Green Bay Packers. The 11-2 Patriots were taking on the future Super Bowl champions, 8-5 Green Bay Packers. The Packers didn’t have Aaron Rodgers in this game, Matt Flynn was the QB, and had surprisingly built a 17-7 lead with just over two minutes left in the first half. The Packers fresh off of a scoring a TD, squib kicked it down the middle to the Patriots 25 yard line where Dan Connolly picked up the ball to start the return.
Connolly rumbles forward with two hands covering the ball, ready to go down on first contact to avoid fumbling. At the start of the play, the Patriots blockers treat this like a normal return, with Rob Gronkowski, Alge Crumpler, Matthew Slater, and Dane Fletcher executing the first level blocks. Thanks to those blocks, Connolly is able to cut into the open field and utilize that 5.23 40 speed against the Packers.
At this point, every Patriots fan is geeking out that a 315-lb guard is actually making a attempt at a big return and the place is going nuts. Charlie Peprah does his best to pursue Connolly, but gets stiff-armed by the guard and allows for Sergio Brown to close in and push Peprah to the sideline. Sammy Morris comes up on the kicker Mason Crosby and gets away with a potential block in the back penalty. Unfortunately, Connolly runs out of gas and Robert Francois catches him from behind at the 8 yard line. Connolly’s forward momentum took him to the 4 to set up a 1st and Goal.
Looking back at Connolly’s career in New England, he wasn’t a great (you can argue he wasn’t good either) player, but he was a reliable veteran presence on the offensive line. I looked up Connolly’s combine numbers from 2005, he was actually a pretty good athlete for a lineman (1.85 10, 28.5” vertical, 9’0” standing jump, 4.54 shuttle, 7.65 3-cone). It was great the Connolly was able to retire as a Super Bowl champion as well. The return itself seemed to spark the Patriots, who were flat from the start of the game until that play. At the end, they show the Patriots offense reacting to the play and coming onto the field. Here’s Tom Brady’s reaction:
The play itself allowed the Patriots to cut into the Packers half-time lead to 17-14 and on the opening drive of the second half, a Pick Six by Kyle Arrington gave the Patriots a 21-17 lead they would not relinquish. The final score of the game wound up being 31-27, but the big takeaway there was one of the greatest kickoff returns in NFL history.