For Jeremy Kerley, Sept. 9, 2012 will forever be a day he will remember.
The New York Jets defeated the Buffalo Bills, 48-28, in their regular-season opener and in the process Kerley earned a place in the franchise record book.
The second-year wide receiver became the first player in team history to record a punt return touchdown and a receiving TD in the same game.
"We were expecting Jeremy to have a huge game," head coach Rex Ryan said. "I don't know if I would have expected two touchdowns from him, but I really thought he was going to have a big game."
Excluding Ryan, surely not many could have predicted this type of performance from No. 11 based on this year's training camp.
Kerley suffered a hamstring injury during the second day of camp at SUNY Cortland. For any athlete, missing portions of preseason practice is a difficult thing to endure. Yet for him, it proved to be even harder. His teammates were in the midst of learning an entire new offense and he was falling behind.
"I've been hurt, I've been banged up, so I haven't been going 100 percent all the time like I know I can," Kerley said after the game. "Today was the best I felt in a long time, in a while, at 100 percent. Everything just came through today."
Due to the hamstring injury, the former TCU product only saw action in one of the Jets' four preseason games.
That didn't make a difference Sunday. He scored the Green & White's first TD of the season when he leaped into the air in the corner of the end zone to haul in a 12-yard pass from quarterback Mark Sanchez with 6:02 left in the first quarter.
Then he added onto his already impressive outing in the second quarter when he returned a punt 68 yards for a score, which increased the Jets' lead to 21-0. The score ended the NFL's longest punt-return TD drought at 119 games, was the longest by a Jet since the 2004 playoffs when Santana Moss returned one for 75 yards at Pittsburgh, and the longest in the regular season since Terance Mathis returned a punt 98 yards in 1990.
"I was informed," Kerley said of what he accomplished this afternoon. "It feels good. I didn't know it at the time. It's probably a good thing I didn't know it at the time. I'm just out here helping my team. I'm out here playing this game that I've been playing for a long time. That's all.
"With me being hurt, it definitely felt good for me personally to come out and put on this performance. But I knew my guys trusted me and they've always had my back."
In a small way, Kerley said his ability to be a punt returner enhances his play at his primary role as a wide receiver.
"You've definitely got to have eye-to-hand coordination and trust the guys that hold up and block because there's a lot of times that guys will be running in your blind spot and you don't know where they are," he said. "Just like on offense, you've got to trust Mark [Sanchez] to put the ball where it's at and you've got the trust the guys to block for you."
And although Kerley helped the offense produce 48 points — the most points ever in a Jets season opener — the unit isn't satisfied.
"We knew what we could do. We knew what we were capable of," Kerley said. "We just showed the world today. I'm going to wake up tomorrow knowing what we did, putting it behind us and moving onto next week."