It was the dropkick heard around the world…or at least around Patriots Nation.
And it's a play that many are pointing to for either symbolically or literally giving the hapless Eagles life in Sunday evening's shocking 35-28 upset of the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
The curious, controversial play came with just under eight minutes to play in the second quarter. The Patriots had just taken a 14-0 lead on a Tom Brady-to-Danny Amendola 11-yard touchdown. A Philly team that had been accused of quitting on Chip Kelly of late after allowing 45 points in each of its last two losses appeared well on its way to a fourth-consecutive defeat.
That's when Bill Belichick and his staff – "We make all those decisions," said the head coach, staying unified in the call – decided to call for Nate Ebner to run a dropkick kickoff.
Though many referred to it as a type of onside kick, Belichick was emphatic in aligning the unusual attempt with more traditional "mortar"-style kickoffs that are high, short boots looking to find some dead area in the kickoff return team's side of the field.
Stephen Gostkowski took the ball and tossed it to Ebner who executed the dropkick to about the Eagles 41, where it was handled relatively easily by Seyi Ajirotutu. Had it gotten past the diving special teamer, maybe it would have given the Patriots coverage unit a chance. But it didn't.
As Fox analyst Charles Davis said in the immediate aftermath of the dropkick, the Patriots hoped to catch the Eagles napping, but "gave up excellent field position for Philadelphia offense that sorely needs it."
A Philly team that had punted four straight possessions to open the game and had not passed its own 43-yard line immediately put together an eight-play drive to a Zach Ertz 5-yard touchdown to get on the scoreboard.
It was the first of five straight scores for the visitors. While no direct connection can be made to the change in momentum and resulting outcome, it certainly appeared the play and the field position gave the previously lifeless Eagles a boost. Big plays in the kicking game ensued and what some are calling the biggest upset of the year was the final result.
At least one Philly player, leading receiver Jordan Matthews, called the dropkick "disrespectful." So it's no leap in logic to say it lit a fire under the seemingly and supposedly overmatched visitors.
"I mean there wasn't a tremendous downside to the play," Belichick said after the game when asked about weighing the risks as the reward of the play. "It was like when they mortared their one over there and [Michael Williams recovered it]. It was different, but it was kind of the same thing – kicking it to dead space."
A day later, though, Belichick seemed to have a slightly different view. He admitted that with the benefit of hindsight that the rest of the world now has and knowing how things played out he may have done things differently.
"Sure, if you knew for sure that at the end of the play that's where the ball was going to end up and that's what it would be, then yeah, of course it's 100 percent obvious to say, 'Yeah let's do something else.' If the ball hits the ground and rolls around back there and you recover it then that's something else. Or if it rolls back there and they get it on the 20-yard line it's one less play that [Josh] Huff has to return. So yeah, I mean look it's easy to sit here when you know the outcome of the play and say, 'Well yeah, we could have done something else.' Sure, yeah, no question," Belichick said.
The dropkick didn't work. It came at a curious time. The results, directly and indirectly, were terrible for a Patriots team that's now in a real fight to secure a playoff bye in the AFC following its second loss of the season.
It's worth a second look in this edition of Take Two-sday, and then we can all move on to the Texans.