December 22, 2010 - 3:07 PM
For the rest of Dan Connolly's football career, the Patriots guard is going to be able to say the opposition was "kicking away from him." Connolly, a wedge blocker on the Pats' kickoff return team, had a 71-yard rumblin, stumblin return against the Packers on Sunday night. If you haven't seen it, you've either been out of the country or you're not much of a sports fan.
Anyway, the return was the subject of jokes on Wednesday as the Bills and Pats prepared to meet Sunday at The Ralph.
Bills coach Chan Gailey, asked if he was going to kick away from Connolly, paused then smiled and said: "That was a good one."
Pats coach Bill Belichick, asked if he was going to get Connolly more involved in the return game, said: "Ha, ha, yeah. We’re going to work on his open-field running a little bit and maybe put him back there as the deep guy to see if anybody wants to kick away from him."
On Pats' return man Brandon Tate: "Well, he’s second on our team in average per return."
The NFL couldn't resist getting some more mileage out of the play. Connolly was named AFC Special teams player of the week.
Boston media asked Belichick about the award. His response: "Congratulations to him. It was an excellent run on his part. He got some great blocking along the way. It’s a play that we’ve never seen before, but it was timely and he did a good job with the opportunity. One thing about Dan is we’ve worked on that play a lot in practice; we squib kick every week and I’d say he probably handles the ball, if not every week, I’d say at least every other week. Sometimes they go to Alge [Crumpler], sometimes they go to Rob [Gronkowski] or whoever’s back there, but we work on that on a regular basis. Dan’s always well prepared. He has been throughout his career. He was on the practice squad. He was released by a couple of teams, but he kept working, kept getting better. He’s developed a role for himself and has been a very productive player for us this year, even though he was playing a lot on offense, he’s still took a lot of pride in the kickoff return. We’ve had a lot of production on our kickoff return unit with him being a key part of it as the middle guy there – the call end on the wedge – and his opportunity came up to handle the ball and he did a nice job with it. He found some open space, picked up a couple blocks and turned it into a big play. That’s preparation meets opportunity; he delivered. Is that enough for you on him?"
Bills linebacker and former Pats player Pierre Woods, thinking about the Pats' deep threats, said: "Hey kick it to him, that’s what I would say."
The Pats have a great return game without Connolly. Tate has a 26.1-yard average on kickoff returns and has two returns for TDs. New England ranks fifth in the NFL in average drive start after kickoffs - their 30-yard line. The Bills rank 17th in average drive start, their 26.6.