American Football: Hughes the long-range specialist

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Ask any head coach what areas of his team he is most concerned about and as sure as he chews gum, looks glum and votes Republican he will say special teams. To the average fan this can be a little mystifying. After all, if the vast bulk of a game is spent on offense and defense, what makes the special teamers so, well, special?

Head coaches know their sport, however, and if proof was needed that kicks, and especially the returning of kicks, remain two of American football's lethal arts it came this week amid a deluge of dazzling plays.

Fittingly, the most remarkable action came at the Superdome, where top billing went to Tyrone Hughes of the New Orleans Saints. He returned kick-offs 92 and 97 yards for touchdowns, in his side's 37-34 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. In all Hughes accumulated 347 return yards - 304 just on kick-offs - to establish a new NFL record.

Hughes was not the only special teamer to claim a touchdown, with Robert Bailey, of the Rams, scoring the day's most unlikely six points. With his side trailing 37-27, the quick-witted Bailey fielded what appeared a routine 39- yard punt in his own end zone.

Noticing that the opposing offense and defense were preparing to come on, Bailey ran 103 yards into the Saints' end zone. 'When I looked back everybody was walking off the field,' Bailey said. 'The ball was still rolling, I knew it was still alive. I just picked it up and started running.'

Mel Gray, of the Detroit Lions, widely regarded as the best return man in the business, did not let the day go by without making a contribution. He returned four kicks 174 yards - including a kick-off for 102 yards - to become the NFL's all-time leader in kick-off return yardage. His effort proved crucial as the Lions broke their recent slump with a 21-16 win over the Chicago Bears.

Eric Metcalf, of the Cleveland Browns, also underlined his special qualities. Wreckless Eric appeared to have blown the play when he allowed the ball to bounce over his head. 'All I could think of was going back to the sideline and Bill (Belichick, his head coach) saying I had lost us 20 yards,' Metcalf said. Taking advantage of a fortuitous bounce Metcalf then raced 73 yards for his second TD punt return of the season.

The Browns ran out easy winners over the Cincinnati Bengals, to underline their status as one of the season's biggest surprises. Another, the San Diego Chargers, were beaten at last, 20-15 by the Denver Broncos. Denver picked off Stan Humphries three times and, though San Diego's Natrone Means had his third 100-yard game in a row, two Jason Elam field goals in the last 10 minutes were enough for the Broncos.

The Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers still look the class of the NFC.

The Cowboys lost Troy Aikman early in Arizona, but Rodney Peete came off the bench and guided the side to victory. The 49ers scored their customary 40-plus points in crushing Tampa Bay.

NFL (home teams first): Kansas City 38 Seattle 23; Detroit 21 Chicago 16; NY Giants 6 Pittsburgh 10; Cleveland 37 Cincinnati 13; New Orleans 37 LA Rams 34; Indianapolis 27 Washington 41; LA Raiders 30 Atlanta 17; Arizona 21 Dallas 28; San Francisco 41 Tampa Bay 16; San Diego 15 Denver 20. Did not play: Miami, Buffalo, New England, NY Jets.

---------------------------------------------------------------- NFL DIVISIONAL STANDINGS ---------------------------------------------------------------- AMERICAN CONFERENCE Eastern Division W L T F A Miami 5 2 0 180 146 Buffalo 4 3 0 134 143 NY Jets 4 3 0 116 122 New England 3 4 0 175 183 Indianapolis 3 5 0 167 186 Central Division Cleveland 6 1 0 166 79 Pittsburgh 5 2 0 124 117 Houston 1 5 0 87 134 Cincinnati 0 7 0 101 180 Western Division San Diego 6 1 0 185 126 Kansas City 5 2 0 159 131 LA Raiders 3 4 0 163 178 Seattle 3 4 0 153 124 Denver 2 5 0 156 192 NATIONAL CONFERENCE Eastern Division Dallas 6 1 0 187 90 Philadelphia 4 2 0 140 106 NY Giants 3 4 0 127 144 Arizona 2 5 0 89 155 Washington 2 6 0 169 211 Central Division Minnesota 5 2 0 147 105 Chicago 4 3 0 129 129 Detroit 3 4 0 127 145 Green Bay 3 4 0 117 97 Tampa Bay 2 5 0 96 159 Western Division San Francisco 6 2 0 237 150 Atlanta 4 4 0 158 184 LA Rams 3 5 0 135 156 New Orleans 3 5 0 156 208 ---------------------------------------------------------------- (Photograph omitted)

Comments