Explaining punter Sam Koch's decision to throw ball Cary Williams

November 08, 2010|By Ken Murray, The Baltimore Sun

Until Sunday, Sam Koch had never thrown a pass in any football game he ever played — not in the NFL, not college, not high school. So when the Ravens punter threw — and completed — that first pass out of punt formation, it was one for the books.

Koch's 13-yard pass play with gunner Cary Williams did not tilt the balance of the Ravens' 26-10 romp over the Miami Dolphins, but it set new standards for punters.

First of all, the Ravens didn't call for a fake. Second, it was not automatic that Koch throw the ball just because the Dolphins neglected to cover Williams on the left side of the Ravens' formation. And third, there was chaos on both sidelines.

Along the Miami sideline, special teams coach Darren Rizzi was frantically trying to call a timeout. On the Ravens' sideline, coaches and players were screaming Koch's name in an effort to get his attention. It got so wild on the field that at one point, Haruki Nakamura, the up-back and man responsible to get the ball snapped, tried to call time out.

Fortunately for Koch and posterity, the play came off with bizarre splendor late in the third quarter.

Displaying the steely nerves of a veteran quarterback, Koch made the decision to throw at the last moment.

"When I caught the [snap], I was thinking do I punt or throw?" Koch said later. "I chose to throw it."

On a day when swirling, gusting wind played havoc with both kicks and snaps, Koch's athletic play made amends for an earlier bad play. In the second quarter, he botched the hold on a field goal attempt of 38 yards by Billy Cundiff. Upon retrieving the errant ball, Koch tried to stand up, only to get knocked down and run over by a Miami rusher.

"I didn't feel it," Koch said. "I just knew I was on the ground."

Special teams once again were an adventure for the Ravens. Cundiff made four more field goals (he's 14-for-17 on the season) and hammered four kickoffs for touchbacks (out of seven). But with November, weather elements arrived at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday and made things interesting.

"That's Baltimore," Cundiff said. "When you get past Halloween, there's going to be wind. But the wind shouldn't effect a [37-]yarder."

Cundiff's only miss of the day came at the end of the third quarter — four plays after Koch's pass — when he read the wind one way and kicked into something else. The ball wound up hooking left.

"I 'over-cooked' it," he said. "The wind was reading left to right, but it wasn't doing what it said it was doing."

Cundiff also had the best view of Koch's muffed hold in the second quarter: "The ball broke up on him, the bottom dropped out. His hands were in one place and the ball shifted."

According to Koch, the wind spun the tip down and it hit his palm. Long-snapper Morgan Cox thought he got off a good spiral, but he wasn't able to see what happened.

"A spiral is the most important thing," Cox said. "The less time it's in the air, the better. … But the wind can definitely affect it."

Wind did not play a role in Koch's pass, however. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said Miami had just 10 players on the field "trying to get a timeout and didn't get the timeout."

When Williams trotted out to his gunner position on the left, he quickly realized the Dolphins weren't going to cover him and started waving at Koch.

"Their right wing, the last man on the line, looked out at me, then put his hand back in the dirt," Williams said. "It was a spur-of-the-moment play."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the danger of even having the punter throw a pass to a cornerback.

"That's a hard thing to get to sometimes because you don't want to mess it up," he said. "Sometimes you can just punt the ball and be better off. It's a hard play to execute. So for our guys to have the confidence to check to that play, for them to pull it off, make a throw, makes a catch … it was really a good decision."

Koch is not a bad tosser — in the corn-hole board game the Ravens play in the locker room during breaks, he is perhaps the best player. Sunday, he threw his first pass and didn't punt once, a most curious development.

"It was a very interesting day," he said. "More than likely we won't see that again. And I'll just do my job and punt the ball."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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