Holding a 10-6 lead in the third quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New England Patriots were set to punt the ball back to Pittsburgh. The result deemed to be a major turning point in the matchup, as Gunner Olszewski muffed the ball and the Patriots then recovered. New England went on to score the eventual game-winning touchdown three plays later.
The play was made possible by an original substitution error by the Steelers. With only 10 players on the field, Patriots’ gunner Brenden Schooler was left uncovered on the left sideline. Seeing Schooler had a free release, Patriots’ punter Jake Bailey adjusted.
“He sees Schooler is uncovered right there, so rather than pinning the ball where Gunner [Olszewski] is not going to have a chance to field it, now he’s going to hit a higher ball right there, a sky ball, which forces the ball to move more in the air,” Patriots special teams coordinator Cam Achord explained to reporters on Tuesday.
“He hit a different pitch, used a different club to hit, which left more hang time on the ball, and actually put more backspin on the ball, which helped contribute to the muff right there. Schools obviously made a great play to be in front because any time you muff a ball, it’s going to go down in front of you, so that’s where you want to be.”
While the play worked to New England’s liking, one would wonder why Bailey did not just throw the ball to the uncovered Schooler. Achord noted that is a possibility, and Bailey has the arm to do so.
“There’s a couple different things in that situation,” Achord said. “There’s definitely an opportunity for Jake to throw it to him, obviously Jake has a good arm and can throw. So, there are situations where that will definitely happen.”
The Patriots special teams unit has earned the reputation of making game-altering plays in the past, and Sunday’s play by Bailey and Schooler was just another example of such.
“That was really a heads up, alert play by Jake,” special teams captain Matthew Slate said on Monday. “Making an adjustment before the snap and executing at a high level and taking advantage of a mistake by Pittsburgh.”