It’s the opening day of the 2019 NFL season and all three state teams will have home games. Off of three losing seasons a year ago, two of them, the Bucs and Dolphins, will be debuting new coaching staffs.
First in Jacksonville, the Jaguars will take on the defending AFC West champions the Kansas City Chiefs and their electrifying quarterback, Patrick Mahomes. This should be a fascinating matchup of the Chiefs high-powered passing attack against one of the better defenses in the NFL. Led by Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey, the Jaguars will give the Chiefs a true test.
On offense, Jacksonville has welcomed in free agent quarterback Nick Foles to get their past game going. As we wrote earlier this week, he’s been bothered by a slight abdominal injury and it remains to be seen if he is healthy enough to be effective for the entire opening game.
A guy that does appear to be healthy for the first time in a long time in NFL regular season is running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette battled a hamstring injury for most of last year’s 5 – 11 season, but if he is ready to roll, then it will greatly help the Jaguar chances.
Next, in Miami, it’s the first game for brand new NFL coach Brian Flores (above). After spending over a decade as a defensive assistant with the New England Patriots, Flores takes over what will be a more than challenging situation in year one.
First, the Dolphins have to figure out their quarterbacking future. For now they will go with longtime veteran or Ryan Fitzpatrick to start the opener with the Ravens at Hard Rock Stadium. However, the team would like to see newly-acquired second-year quarterback and former first-round pick up the Cardinals, Josh Rosen become the guy. Rosen might see action as soon as Sunday, depending if the veteran Fitzpatrick struggles.
The expectations have been lowered greatly in South Florida after Flores and GM Chris Grier have stripped the roster of almost all high-priced veteran players. Gone are the names Ryan Tannehill, Robert Quinn, Cameron Wake, Danny Amendola, Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and Kiko Alonso. All of those players were either released or traded away this offseason.
Clearly, the Dolphins have their eyes on being better in 2020 and 2021, but the real danger is just how much losing will go on this season before it gets to that?
It will probably be the Dolphins biggest key to try to neutralize former South Florida high school and Louisville Heisman winning quarterback, Lamar Jackson. Jackson helped lead the Ravens to the AFC North title going 6 – 1 as a starter down the stretch of last season and played so impressively that the team Delta wave former Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco in the off-season.
Whether Miami can contain Jackson with their young and experienced defense, may end up deciding this one.
Finally, the Buccaneers will also welcome in a new coaching staff. Bruce Arians is the fifth new head coach in eight Tampa Bay seasons. He brings a winning pedigree from the Arizona Cardinals and has primarily been brought in, along with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, to get more consistent play out of quarterback Jameis Winston.
Winston and the Bucs should be familiar with their opening-day opponent the 49ers, especially after beating San Francisco in late November of last season at home.
Tampa Bay has installed a new 3 – 4 defense with coordinator Todd Bowles and they now must be ready for the 49ers to welcome back Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from his season-ending knee injury a year ago.
The Bucs are counting heavily on a rookie first-round pick middle linebacker Devin White and free agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to help add to their defense. Suh replaces six Time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy after the very popular player on and off the field was released in a salary cap move by the team earlier in the offseason.
The Buccaneers have high hopes that Arians can turn them around like he did the Cardinals, where they won 10 games in his first season in the “Valley of the Sun.”
“Mountaineer Shot” earns Dolphins K Sanders AFC honors
One of the great trick plays, not just of this NFL season but in recent pro football memory, has earned the Dolphins kicker who caught a touchdown pass Sunday AFC weekly honors.
The league announced Wednesday that kicker Jason Sanders, who became the first place-kicker to catch a touchdown pass in 42 years, is the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week:
Special Teams Players of the Week (Week 13):
— NFL (@NFL) December 4, 2019
Sanders also made his only field-goal attempt, as well as two extra points, earned the weekly honor for Miami’s 37 – 31 upset of the Eagles.
However, it is the play that is known as “Mountaineer Shot” that Sanders will forever be remembered for not just in Dolphin history, but NFL.
We wrote about the play on Monday, as head coach Brian Flores and special teams coordinator Danny Crossman implemented the direct snap to punter Matt Haack, while players were spread wide on either side of the formation.
Haack then, took the snap, rolled left and when the Eagles rushed at him, he flipped the ball to Sanders for the touchdown. The play is named for the center, Kilgore, because he played at Appalachian State, whose nickname is the Mountaineers. And, it’s something that Dolphins had been practicing regularly on and off for the past two months.
Furher, as for the historical aspects of the play, Sanders became the first kicker to catch a touchdown pass in an NFL game since Baltimore’s Jim Turner did it in a game in 1977.
It is also the first time since the AFL – NFL merger in 1970 that a punter has completed a touchdown pass to a kicker and the play will live on for years and years to come.
It is the second time that Sanders has won the AFC special teams player of the week award this season. He also got the honor for his two clultch 48 yard field goals in the fourth quarter of the Dolphins 16-12 upset of the Indianapolis Colts in November.
Dolphins fans still buzzing over “Mountaineer Shot” trick play
Move over, “Miami Miracle,” we now have a rival Dolphins trick play that will be talked about forever by fans and observers.
While it wasn’t the crazy lateral clinching play that Miami scored on with no time left to defeat the Patriots last December, “Mountaineer Shot,” as it’s known, is one of the wildest gadget plays to ever score a TD in the NFL. That’s because it involved the punter throwing to the kicker for a touchdown on a fake field goal.
It was the second quarter with the Dolphins trailing the Eagles 13 – 7, when Miami elected to kick a field goal (or so we thought) from Philadelphia’s 1-yard line.
That’s when dolphin punter Matt Haack lined up behind Center Daniel Kilgore with Miami spreading players to the right and the left. Then, what happened next was comical special teams touchdown, maybe in NFL history:
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 1, 2019
Haack’s first ever NFL completion was a forward option pitch to the kicker, Jason Sanders. And for good measure, it was Sanders first reception in his entire football career (dating back to high school) with the play stunning the Eagles and helping Miami pull off a 37 – 31 upset win.
Here was more on the play from David Wilson of the Miami Herald, including how long coach Brian Flores, special teams coach Danny Crossman and the players had been waiting to pull it out of the bag of tricks:
“We felt like that was a good time to run it,” coach Brian Flores said, and it gave us a spark….
“It was one of those plays Miami had been waiting weeks for the chance to run. Tight end Mike Gesicki said the Dolphins started working on it about two months ago and have been waiting weeks for the right opportunity to arise. Sunday finally presented such an opportunity….
“The gutsy call was just the latest in a line of gutsy calls by special teams coordinator Danny Crossman. In an October loss to the Buffalo Bills, Haack ran for a first down on a fake punt attempt. Last month, the Dolphins successfully executed a surprise onside kick in another loss to the Bills….
“The gutsy call was Crossman distilled to his mad-scientist essence.
“Danny Crossman is crazy. Like what is he dreaming up? This is the NFL,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “Like, that’s not—that doesn’t happen.”
Of course there is further irony that the Eagles famously ran their “Philly Special” play, which was an option pass to then-quarterback Nick Foles, for a touchdown in their upset of the Patriots in Super Bowl 52.
So, teams have constantly been looking to get the Eagles on trick plays themselves.
This would include the Patriots having run a double pass to wide receiver Julian Edelman, who threw a touchdown against them in New England’s 17-10 victory couple of weeks ago at Philly.
Back to “Mountaineer Shot” on Sunday. The play is named for the center, Kilgore, because he played at Appalachian State, whose nickname is the Mountaineers.
And as for the historical aspects of the play, Sanders became the first kicker to catch a touchdown pass in an NFL game since Baltimore’s Jim Turner did it in a game in 1977.
And, it is the first time since the AFL – NFL merger in 1970 that our punter has thrown a touchdown pass to the kicker.
Oh, and the Fins have suddenly come to life with three wins in four games after and 0-7 start. And, it’s in part because the team is still playing hard for a coach and coaching staff that’s willing to take wild risks they did with “Mountaineer Shot,” Sunday.