It's last season's divisional playoff round. The Patriots are in Denver to take on the Broncos, and are hoping to become the first team in history to pull off three consecutive Super Bowl wins.
The Patriots score first when Adam Vinatieri splits the uprights on a 40-yard field goal attempt. But the Broncos cause a fumble in Patriots territory, and a 39-yard pass interference call puts them in position to score an easy touchdown.
With less than 2:00 remaining in the first half, cornerback Ellis Hobbs returns a kickoff 32 yards, trying to put the Patriots offense in position to regain the lead before the clock runs out. He gets caught up, but keeps his feet, hoping to squeeze out a few more yards. Then something happens that you don't see every day:
The Broncos kickoff and punting specialist makes a nice tackle.
That's right. A kicker put a hit on someone. Eat your heart out Adam Sandler.
In fact, the tackle is so well placed that it dislodges the football from Hobbs' grasp, causing a fumble. Denver recovers and four plays later they've put another three points on the board, stealing the field goal the Patriots were hoping to produce before halftime.
That tackler was none other than the Patriots newly signed punter Todd Sauerbrun.
"Oh yeah," chuckled Sauerbrun on Thursday, hoping the New England media had forgotten his contribution to the painful loss. "I'm not going to say I forgot about that, because I do remember."
Sauerbrun admitted that the memory is a fun one for him, expressing relief that none of the Patriots players made a big deal of it when he arrived.
"Everybody's been really good here," he said. "They've welcomed me with open arms. You get to know guys from being around the league, so it wasn't hard, moving right in here and getting to meet everybody. It was pretty easy. Everybody's been really, really good to me."
That's something Sauerbrun, now in his 12th NFL season, can appreciate. He knows what it's like to be shunned and mistreated by a team.
Although he's a three-time Pro Bowler, Sauerbrun was released by the Broncos Oct. 10 after sitting out the first four games of the season while serving a league-mandated suspension for testing positive for the dietary supplement ephedra.
"Obviously, that's what hurt me in Denver," he said, calling his release "a shock."
"I wasn't prepared for that. … They have a young kid that was [punting] for minimal money, and I think that played a big role in it too," he said. "They wanted to save the money, I really feel. Obviously, it wasn't my ability. I will always make sure that'll never be the case. That's something that I can control. I've made some dumb choices and I think I've been pretty humbled through that. I really feel like if this isn't a lesson learned, then I'm an idiot."
Asked to clarify what he meant by "dumb choices," Sauerbrun said, "Taking ephedra, you know. I took it and to be honest with you, it's not steroids. It has nothing to do with that. It's just an unfortunate thing. Why it's banned is because… I personally don't believe it should be banned. If you have a bad heart, yeah. You know, if you're sick, you shouldn't be taking it. That's just common sense. But it is what it is. I made that choice. I made that mistake and I've paid my penance for it. And I've been punished more than enough, so I'm ready to get on with things."
Sauerbrun has the fifth-highest gross punting average in NFL history (44 yards), and has previously played for the Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs and the Carolina Panthers, in addition to the Broncos.
He's in position to help the Patriots in the punting department - they currently have the 30th worst gross punting average in the NFL and their net punting average ranks 27th in the league.
While with Carolina, Sauerbrun became the first punter in the Super Bowl Era to lead his conference in punting three straight seasons, averaging 45.9 yards from 2001 to 2003, the highest gross average for any three-year period in NFL history. He topped the league in gross average in 2001 and 2002, and his 2001 average of 47.5 yards was the highest since 1963.
But he feels he was mistreated in Carolina, long before having any problems related to ephedra.
"[The Panthers] were fining me because I was like two pounds over weight. I mean it was coming out to like a couple thousand dollars a week," he said. The Panthers, in a pinch, asked him if he would kick field goals as well. According to Sauerbrun, he never refused to kick field goals for them, but put up a fuss because he simply wanted some leniency regarding his weight. At the time, Sauerbrun said he was "going to the Pro Bowl every year," but still wondering, "Where's the love here? The love was lost there."
While punting for the Broncos last season, Sauerbrun averaged 43.8 yards per kick, eighth best in the league.
"[Being released] was upsetting, but I have to get over it," he said. "I do have a job now, so I'm going to make the best out of this opportunity that I can."
He still feels his suspension and subsequent release were harsh penalties for taking the banned substance.
"What bothers me the most is that all the stuff around the league that's gone (on) with players, it's almost like they wash their hands of it," he said. "There's no penalties. You know what I mean? Even if they do get suspended, they're back and everything's all fine. And something like this for ephedra, nonetheless. I could understand if I had tested positive for cocaine or heroin. It was a diet pill; you know what I'm saying? It wasn't even steroids. That's what upsets me. And then I get punished beyond belief on this. You see all this stuff happen to other people, and nothing happens to them. Their team welcomes them back with open arms, and I get punished way beyond what it should be.
"Like I said, I paid my penance and I'm ready to move on. I've been punished more than enough and enough is enough. Let's get it on now. Let's do it. … Hopefully, [the Patriots are] going to like what I do. I'd love to be in this winning organization for as long as I can."
Sauerbrun admitted feeling "rusty" last week against the Jaguars, attributing his low 35-yard average on five punts to the fact that he hadn't had a chance to get his timing down with long snapperLonie Paxton.
"I didn't get one rep with the team or anything," he revealed. "It was weird, you know, but fortunate enough as a kicker or punter, you could pretty much do that. But you do need the timing. My timing was definitely not in sync, and it probably won't be for a little while, but it'll come quick. I'm hoping to get a lot of reps this week so I'll feel really good about going into the playoffs.
"After two games, come the playoffs I'll be ready to go, which will be great. I'll be primed (and) ready to go when it counts."
The Patriots practiced outside today at one of their upper practice fields, and for the second day in a row, quarterback Tom Brady was the only player not seen during the portion of practice available to the media. He's listed as "Probable" for Sunday's game, and has started the last 104 consecutive games for the Pats. In the locker room, backup quarterback Matt Cassel revealed that he took all the snaps in practice yesterday. "I just took the snaps, and you know he's recovering from a little bit of a back. But he'll be back and it went well," said Cassel.