Risk brings reward
Hobbs's 108-yard return a record
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Ellis Hobbs couldn't help himself, and as a result, he ended up helping the Patriots.
Hobbs fielded the opening kickoff of the second half of yesterday's game 8 yards deep in the end zone. That's take-a-knee, let's-start-at-the-20 territory.
Well, for anyone but Hobbs that is.
"It's a calculated risk," the third-year cornerback/kick returner said after his Patriots finished off the Jets, 38-14. "I understood there's a danger in taking it out that far. One little false move, and I could have been the zero, but I ended up the hero."
Hobbs fielded the kick on the right side, cut across to the left and evaded a lunging David Bowens at about the 20-yard line. From there, it was nothing but green turf as Hobbs dashed to the end zone and a place in the NFL record book.
The 108-yard return, which gave the Patriots a 21-7 lead, tied the league record for longest play in history. Nathan Vasher returned a missed field goal 108 yards for Chicago in 2005, and Devin Hester did the same thing for the Bears last season.
It was also the longest kickoff return in NFL history. The previous mark of 106 yards was shared by three players, with Roy Green of the St. Louis Cardinals the latest to turn the trick, in 1979.
"I'm very proud of that, but records are meant to be broken," said Hobbs, who, in addition, shattered Raymond Clayborn's 30-yard-old team record of 101 yards. "If I hadn't taken it out, we never would have thought of that record.
"We had some key blocks on that return," he added. "The most important thing was that everybody continued to play the game. Nobody turned around to look at me to see what I was doing. You saw those guys running down the field and making their blocks."
On the Patriots sideline, players and coaches were looking on in with amazement as they realized the always aggressive Hobbs was about to go all-in with a dubious hand.
"It was one of those things where it was like, 'No, no no,' " receiver Wes Welker said. "Then it was like, 'Yes, yes, yes.' He made a great play, and that's the type of stuff we need on both sides of the ball."
It was the second kickoff return for a touchdown in Hobbs's career. He brought one back 93 yards against the Texans at Gillette Stadium in November.
And just like with that one, Hobbs couldn't help himself. So as he neared the New York end zone, he stole a quick glance at the giant video screen at the top of the stadium.
"I took a peek," Hobbs readily admitted. "I didn't keep staring at it. I didn't do that. I took a peek at the screen, and I kept running."
Hobbs, part of a defense that limited the Jets to 227 yards, took a seat after the return. He was replaced at corner by Randall Gay for the ensuing series at the coaches' behest.
"You have to try to get your composure again and humble yourself," Hobbs said. "With such a great play, you go out there a little cocky, and something ends up happening. You're a little tired, the Jets would have known that, and they would have started coming at me."
There was a question entering the season as to who would return kicks; Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and Hobbs shared the role last season. Yesterday, the Patriots trotted out the tandem of Hobbs and Willie Andrews to rave reviews.
The Patriots have had some pretty good returners during coach Bill Belichick's tenure, but they generally haven't been able to close the deal with any consistency. Hobbs, who also had returns of 29 and 19 yards, may put an end to that trend.
"He's an aggressive, confident guy," special teams captain Larry Izzo said. "Last year you saw it, when he got opportunities late in the year he did well with it. We've got a lot of confidence in him, and obviously we're always trying to block well for him, but then you put a little extra effort when you know you've got a guy back there capable of that."