In case you missed it during yesterday's deluge of scoring in water-logged Oakland, here's how history was made.
After QB Matt Casselfound WR Wes Welker for his 100th catch of the season, which also turned out to be Welker's second touchdown of 2008, the Patriots upped their lead to 28-7. *Stephen Gostkowski then kicked off to Oakland's *Justin Miller, who proceeded to go 91 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-14.
But on the ensuing kickoff by the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski, New England's Ellis Hobbsfielded the ball at his own 5-yard line and took off. He didn't stop until he was in Oakland's end zone 95 yards later. Just like that, New England was back on top by 21 points.
Two plays, 13 seconds apiece.
Back-to-back touchdowns on consecutive kickoff returns.
Rarely does this happen in the NFL. In fact, it's been eight years since St. Louis and Atlanta were the last teams to accomplish the feat on October 15, 2000.
This marks the second time in as many seasons that Hobbs has been part of an historic kickoff return. Last year, in Week 1 versus the New York Jets at the Meadowlands, Hobbs raced 108 yards with a kickoff, putting him in the NFL record books with the longest play in league history.
Sunday's kickoff return score in Oakland was Hobbs' third such touchdown as a Patriot, tying him with former Patriots defensive back Raymond Claybornfor the most in team history.
Immediately after the game, Hobbs was more than willing to talk about his latest big play on special teams.
"I know Justin personally, and before the game, we wished each other well. When I saw him get one, in the back of my mind, I said, 'We need to respond to that.' Obviously, I love touchdowns, but I was just trying to make a big play and it turned into a touchdown.
"It's one of those things he's emphasized, getting after it these last couple of games," Hobbs said, referring to New England's special teams coach Brad Seely. "He's always telling us, 'We're almost there, we're almost there.' It just came to fruition today."
When he accelerated with the football, Hobbs' eyes must've been wider than the hole opened up for him by his teammates on the play. Running back Sammy Morris, who happened to be on the kick return team in what is known as the off-returner spot (the player lined up just in front of Hobbs as a lead blocker and potential return man if the kick is short), described Monday how the play unfolded.
"The first thing I noticed, being the off returner, I saw [fullback/special teamer] Heath Evans… I forgot who the [Raiders] player was … but [Heath] came back and knocked somebody [from Oakland] off his feet. And that put me up on the safety, and I was able to shield him from coming inside of me. Then Ellis ran right behind me, right off my block, and he did the rest."
The only Raider who had a chance of laying a hand on Hobbs was the kicker, Janikowski.
"You better not get tackled by Janikowski," Hobbs replied when asked what was going through his mind at that moment.
"Anytime you get a kicker in that situation, you know which kickers are trying to tackle and which ones just want to look good on film. He's one of those guys that's trying to look decent on film. He didn't get it done and we got the touchdown."
After reviewing the game film, head coach Bill Belichickagreed that the blocking by his players was near-flawless.
"Yeah, that was about as clean as you could block it," he said via conference call late Monday. "There was a big hole there straight to the kicker. Ellis made a good move on Janikowski, who pushed him, but not far enough to get out of bounds. But the blocking was just really outstanding across the board.
"[Gary] Guyton and Heath Evans had real good blocks. Sammy, Sam Aiken, guys that had to kind of get two people, or bump one to get to another ... it was done almost the way we draw it up. The wedge picked up their three guys, they had perfect leverage on them. It was really a good-looking play."
It was a thrilling play, too. Not just for Hobbs, but also for guys like Morris.
"Yeah, it's a great feeling," Morris acknowledged. "I was actually talking to [Patriots tight end] David Thomasabout it after the game, just because it's good when you can see the play unfolding, and you've got your block, and you don't know where the returner is, but you can just hear the crowd. By the sound the crowd was making, you knew that a big play was happening."
And in those 26 seconds, the momentum pendulum swung from Oakland's side right back to New England's.
"It's a great feeling, especially at that point in the game," Morris continued. "They were making moves to try to gain an advantage and we were able to take all that back."