Pat McAfee Tied Club Record with Five Touchbacks
McAFEE TIES FRANCHISE RECORD
Indianapolis' special teams played a crucial role in Sunday night's 38-14 victory over the New York Giants, and maybe none more so than second-year veteran punter and kickoff specialist Pat McAfee, who continually pinned the New York offense deep in its own territory throughout the game.
"He did an outstanding job on the kickoffs," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said Monday afternoon. "Congratulations to Pat. He did a nice job. That makes a huge difference for our defense. Trying to convert consistently 80-yard drives is difficult on an offense. He did a nice job for us."
McAfee recorded five touchbacks, a team-high since 1970, tying Adam Vinatieri's club mark accomplished at Denver on October 29, 2006.
McAfee found the end zone on six of seven kickoffs, giving him enough to break the record, but Giants' returner Darius Reynaud returned one attempt from five yards deep after the Colts built a 24-0 lead.
Another kickoff was an intentional squib at the end of the first half, or McAfee may have found the end zone on all of his attempts.
"I did not even realize that (I tied the record until Monday afternoon)," McAfee said. "To even be in the same sentence as Adam Vinatieri, which I have been for the past year just by being by his locker, I think it's an awesome thing. Hopefully, there will be more to come, and I'm just trying to do my thing."
McAfee's performance came after a period of work. The second-year punter, who had 21 touchbacks last season, admitted it was something he's been building towards.
"In preseason, training camp and in the off-season it was something I knew I had to work on," McAfee said. "Everybody was telling me how many touchbacks I had last year, but I was pretty upset with last year. I thought I let a couple off the hook and did not hit the ball very well."
And after all of the work, McAfee said he was not pleased with his performance against the Texans in the season opener. So he went back to tune up his game, tapping an experienced source for advice.
"Last week in Houston was probably the worst kickoff day I've had in a long time, and it was very upsetting," McAfee said. "Vinatieri and I worked on kickoffs on Wednesday out at practice and with a couple of things to touch up, it really makes a big difference. So, a lot of credit goes to him. I just try to use his wisdom to help myself out."
McAfee joked about the "wild animals" on the coverage team being upset because they did not have the chance to get down the field and showcase their talent.
"I really do believe that we have the best kickoff and punt team in the league," McAfee said. "So I just have to let them do their thing and I'll do my part and altogether we can make it happen."
There is no question that Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can change the complexion of a football game with one play. Sunday night's performances were an example, as Freeney recorded two sacks and two forced fumbles while Mathis had two sacks and a forced fumble of his own.
But even when the two are not sacking the quarterback, they still have a significant effect on the game.
Opposing offenses game plan for the duo, often chipping them with tight ends and leaving running backs in the backfield to assist.
And that, in turn, allows the offense to release fewer options into the secondary to defend.
Freeney and Mathis have honed a set of pass rushing skills during their NFL careers, and they are among the best combinations in the league, each making the Pro Bowl the past two seasons.
"Being around them a number of years now, it's something you certainly grow to expect, that you're accustomed too, those two guys being able to be a real force and a real factor in the ballgame," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "Certainly their intensity level has a lot to do with it, but they have an unbelievable skill level. They have the ability to rush the passer, and they do it in a variety of ways. They can bull-rush you, they can speed-rush you and they can rush you inside or outside. It makes it difficult.
"Oftentimes, teams will look at one rusher and turn the entire line toward that particular rusher, but when you have two that makes things a bit more difficult."
Caldwell also said he thinks "you see those guys really come to the forefront and you see their skills and abilities highlighted when we can stop the run" because it "puts teams in more of a pass mode."
And combined with a Colts offense that is traditionally among the top in the NFL, forcing opposing to catch up allows Freeney and Mathis to focus on one thing: getting to the quarterback.
"If our offense jumps up two or three touchdowns, you know what time it is," Mathis said. "(We're) taking over and it's time to eat. (The quarterback) is the food. It is about studying and when the time arrives, you just take advantage of it. I'm just trying to get No. 18 (Peyton Manning) the ball back and see what he can do with it."
On Sunday night, with a 24-7 Colts lead, Freeney sacked quarterback Eli Manning, forcing a fumble. The ball bounced toward Mathis, then ricocheted into defensive tackle Fili Moala's hands for a 1-yard touchdown return.
"It bounced off his helmet and I gave a lob pass to Fili (Moala)," Mathis said with a wide grin and a chuckle. "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."
Moala drew a basketball comparison when asked to describe the play.
"He can be (John) Stockton and I'll be (Karl) Malone, we'll just put another one in there for the assist column," Moala said. "Luckily, I was in the right place at the right time and made a play."
Those types of plays are commonplace for the Colts defense since Freeney and Mathis have been around.
Since 2002, Freeney has recorded 87 sacks, trailing only Jason Taylor (89) for the most in the NFL during that span. Freeney also has tallied 38 forced fumbles, the most since 2002.
In that same time frame, Mathis has 66 sacks and 36 forced fumbles, the second-most in the NFL. Since 2002, Mathis leads the league with 32 sack-fumbles.
But those types of numbers do not come without hard work, and teammates take notice of what the pair brings to the table.
"Nobody works harder," defensive tackle Dan Muir said. "They come out and work hard every single day, and that's why those guys are successful."
"Anytime you get (opposing teams) to be one-dimensional, get up 21 points and let Freeney and (Mathis) come off the edge, I think that is a good sign for us," defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "If we can get one negative play on a drive… and it's 3rd-and-10, we like our chances."
CALDWELL SPEAKS ON INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES
During Monday's day-after press conference, Caldwell spoke on several individual performances:
On the Development of DT-Fili Moala: "He's coming along. He's making really good progress. That's the thing, oftentimes guys take a little while in the developmental stage to get yourself in position where you're playing and playing well consistently. He's moving in that direction. He's been working extremely hard. He's been working at his techniques. (Defensive Line Coach) John Teerlinck and (Defensive Assistant) Bill Teerlinck have been working with him considerably to try and make certain that he is doing things the way we like him to do it. Slowly, but surely, he is making real good progress."
On TE-Brody Eldridge's Play Against the Giants: "He came along well. Just like any young player, he's going to have ups and downs in the ballgame, and he had a few. But I do think he held his own. I think with young guys, and not only young guys but older guys as well, those guys are paid to rush the passer, too. It was a pretty good guy that he was matched up against. I don't want to point out one play with one player. I don't think that is fair. If you look at his whole body of work, I think he hung in there pretty well. I think he has a chance to be a good, solid football player. He is tough. He's developing into a good in-line blocker, but he can also give you something in the pass game, as well. But he's young yet. The jury is still out. It's two ballgames, and the first one I think he played nine plays. We'll see how he develops."
On Rookie LB-Kavell Conner's First NFL Start: "He played like a young linebacker. He ran around and gave us a lot of effort and did some things well. He hung in there. One of the things that jumps out at you if you didn't notice that he was making a bunch of glaring errors out there on the field means he hung in there fairly well. He's got some pop and some ability. He is young in the system, but I thought he did a nice job."
On DB-Antoine Bethea's Continued Improvement: "Antoine is a very active guy who covers the field not only in terms of the pass, but also in terms of the run. He made a couple of plays that you probably made note of where he came from the backside to make some pretty good hits. He's one of those guys that have a nose for the ball. He can weave through traffic and he's very comfortable doing it and does a great job when he gets there. He's been a good, solid tackler for us as well."