"The surest way to win in the NFL? Return a punt for a touchdown. 18 punt returns for touchdowns last season and the won/lost record for teams returning them was 15-3." – Rick Gosselin.
I was thinking about writing a piece about the lack of dynamism in the Rams' return game going back… forever, when I read this quote on twitter by Gosselin. And then Trindon Holliday took over the Denver/Ravens Divisional game with a punt return and a kickoff return for a touchdown (of course, the Broncos lost… but whatever). It all seemed to crystallize my thinking. The Rams have been moribund in a lot of areas for many years now, sure, but punt and kickoff returns is definitely high among them. The last time the Rams had a genuine threat back there was probably Tony Horne, and that was in 1999, 14 years ago and counting.
The sands of time pass swifter than Austin Pettis on a punt return, my friends.
Horne was a 5,9 173lbs wide receiver from Clemson. He only played in the league three years and caught only four passes, but in the '99 Superbowl season he was a difference maker. Averaging 29.7 yards a kickoff return and taking two back for touchdowns. And in the Divisional playoff game against the Vikings, just as momentum was threatening to turn, he broke the Vikes' back with a touchdown return. Horne scored touchdowns on kickoff returns in '98 and '00 too.
Also in '99 Az-zahir Hakim handled punt returns. A threat to score or fumble on any one of them, it seemed, but in '99 he averaged 10.5 yards a return and scored a touchdown and in '00 it was an amazing 15.3 yards a return and a touchdown. Key playoff fumbles against the Saints notwithstanding; Az was a serious weapon back there.
In 2012, by comparison, the Rams' leading kickoff returner, Chris Givens, averaged 23.4 yards a return and the leading punt returner, Danny Amendola, averaged 7.2 yards a return. Neither scored touchdowns (Givens did but had it called back on a penalty, ditto for a huge Amendola return vs the 49ers. The Rams could've had Usain Bolt & DC Comics' The Flash back there this past season and every long return would've been called back for a block in the back. But hey ho…)
Look back at the Rams' returners in recent years and it's hardly inspiring. Nick Miller took a punt to the house in 2012 but wasn't brought back by the Fisher-Snead regime. There was the Dante Hall signing, which was hoped would give us one of the league's top returners, but Hall's best days were at Arrowhead and Kansas City (under Dick Vermeil, funnily enough). He returned a punt for a touchdown in 2007, and averaged 15.1 yards a return that year and 25.1 yards per kickoff return, in fairness. But that was a 3-13 Scott Linehan season and it all got lost in the misery mix.
Eulogising Tony Horne...
Turf Show Times | Jan 21