The line in the sand.
It's certain to become a legendary tale in the career of Jets special teams coordinator Brant Boyer and the annals of the Green & White. It's already one of the better stories as the Jets write and rewrite the script to the 2022 NFL season.
As the story goes at Lambeau Field last Sunday, with the Jets leading by 10-3 in the third quarter, a number of Jets players had discerned a weakness in the Packers' punt formation. Veteran Will Parks tipped off Boyer, whose nimble mind quickly went to work. The result: rookie DE Micheal Clemons burst through the line, got his hands on Pat O'Donnell's punt, which was scooped up by Parks and returned 20 yards for a TD.
"It's a testament obviously to Coach Boyer for seeing that, Parks for communicating that," punt returner and receiver Braxton Berrios said. "And really the whole team for being able to take something and draw it up in the dirt and on the sideline and immediately go put it to use and be able to get a touchdown on a blocked punt. It's awesome."
For the Jets this season, much of the talk has focused on playing complementary football in all three phases. Yet one of those phases -- special teams -- has been more than complementary, more like monumental. Consider the following through six weeks of the 2022 NFL season:
■ At Cleveland, a fake punt -- Braden Mann's pass to Jeff Smith that went for 17 yards and a first down -- led to a Jets touchdown, the first of Garrett Wilson's NFL career. Then, after the Green & White scored on a 66-yard Joe Flacco-to-Corey Davis pass, Mann executed a successful, improbable onside kick, which led to the winning TD drive.
■ Kicker Greg Zuerlein has converted 10-of-12 field-goal attempts (making 3 from 50+ yards) and 15-of-16 point-after attempts; and has had only 4 kickoffs, after the Jets' 15 TDs, returned by the opposing team.
■ At Green Bay, the Jets special teams were extra, extra special. Quinnen Williams blocked a field goal (he said it was the first time he's blocked one at any level) to keep the game scoreless; then Clemons did his thing, Parks did his and the Jets had a 17-3 lead.
■ Mann (averaging 45.6 yards a kick) is the NFL's active punting leader with 12 consecutive games (dating to last season) without kicking a touchback. That's 57 straight punts in those games, no TBs. Against Miami, Mann's first punt of the game was downed at the 8-yard line. On the next play, rookie CB Sauce Gardner forced QB Teddy Bridgewater to intentionally ground a pass out of the end zone, resulting in a safety and a 2-0 Jets lead. Mann also had a punt blocked at Green Bay.
■ Heading into the game against the Broncos, the Jets' special teams units are ranked No. 2 in the NFL according to Football Outsiders DVAO metrics.
Asked on Thursday if players, as Parks did, point out possible opportunities to their coaches, Boyer, 51, said: "It happens all the time."
"I always appreciate when a player goes to a coach and says 'this is what we're seeing,' " Boyer said. "Any time you take information back about what they're doing, and we thought we could take advantage. We put guys in different positions, and it worked out. It's about communication between coach and player. You trust them enough, and that's everything. You have to hand it to all those guys; they executed exactly what we drew up in the dirt. We, as coaches, only have the stills [photos] and we go to the players and ask them what opportunities they see."
Boyer praised Parks, who he said has boundless energy and should be a coach in the future, and his two special-team gunners -- Justin Hardee and the speedy second-year man Brandin Echols. He said that Hardee, (who is listed on the roster as a cornerback) is "a special specialist," and, in his opinion, is one of the top three special-team players in the NFL.
"It's his want-to," Boyer said of Hardee, "He's beaten double teams after double teams. Everybody who plays special teams is a want-to guy. Are you buying into your role, can you bring the group together and surround them with guys who are leaders? Who tell them this is how we are supposed to get things done. If they get those guys believing, there's only so much a coach can say."
To a man, the players have praised Boyer for his ability to cobble together special teams that are making a difference this season. Boyer, an NFL linebacker and special teamer for three teams over 10 seasons, was the only coach retained when Robert Saleh was named head coach in January 2021. Boyer was also the only coach retained by Adam Gase, when he replaced Todd Bowles in 2019.
"I think it's something you have to embrace," WR Jeff Smith, who caught the pass from Mann on the fake punt against the Browns said, referring to playing special teams. "It's the reason I'm still here. Boyer is going to get the most out of his guys, he's going to teach the right way. He's such a great special teams coach."
As an extra special, special teams note, consider that the Jets play Sunday at altitude in Denver. Also consider that the record for the longest punt in professional football came at Mile High Stadium on Sept. 21, 1969. The98-yard record-setter was booted by Steve O'Neal of the Jets.