DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Having the punter pass to the place-kicker with eight of their teammates split way wide was the brainchild of Miami Dolphins special teams coordinator Danny Crossman, who says such trick plays tend to percolate in his mind.
“There are always things popping into your head,” Crossman said Tuesday. “The ideas are always floating around for years.”
The play called “Mountaineer Shot” finally made it into a game Sunday, when the Dolphins sprung it on the Philadelphia Eagles after shifting out of field goal formation on fourth down.
Punter Matt Haack, who also holds for place kicks, took a direct snap, rolled to his left and flicked a pass to kicker Jason Sanders for a 1-yard touchdown.
Sanders became the first NFL kicker to catch a touchdown pass since Denver’s Jim Turner in 1977. The score in the first half proved to be the difference as Miami won 37-31.
Crossman said he didn’t borrow any part of the play from elsewhere. The Dolphins practiced it for a couple of weeks, and have other tricks in their special teams bag, he said.
“We work on a lot of things,” Crossman said. “I could tell you some things we’ve worked on, and you’d look at me like, ‘What is he talking about?’”
An NFL special teams coordinator since 2005, Crossman said he has probably tried more trickery this year, such as onside kicks and fake punts, than in any other season. That’s partly because the Dolphins (3-9) are shy on talent and willing to take risks, but also because rookie head coach Brian Flores embraces such plays.
Flores smiled when Crossman first brought “Mountaineer Shot” to him and said, “Let’s see where it goes.” Some players were skeptical, however.
“Danny Crossman is crazy,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said with a grin.
“One man’s opinion,” a smiling Crossman responded.
Once the Dolphins mastered the tricky timing of the trick play in practice, the team was eager to spring it in a game.
“We were like, ‘Are we going to call it? Are we going to call it?’” tight end Mike Gesicki said. “And then we called it, and I’m like, ‘Oh man.’”
Said center Daniel Kilgore: “We are at the point in the season where we don’t have much to lose, so why not take a shot?”
Kilgore is a former Appalachian State Mountaineer and the inspiration for the play’s name. He was the only player lined up near Haack at the snap.
The primary receiver was Sanders, one of five players flanked far to the left. If he was covered, Haack was to throw the ball away.
But the Eagles left Sanders wide open, and Haack — whose only previous NFL pass was intercepted on a fake punt in 2017 — threw a fluttery strike.
When the Dolphins practiced the play, Sanders always made the catch, Crossman said. But Haack’s passes took different forms.
“It could be an easy throw, it could be a jump pass, it could be a shovel pass, depending on what the defense does,” Crossman said.
Other eligible receivers on the play included 320-pound defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, which gives the Dolphins an intriguing option.
Maybe they’ll run it again Sunday against the New York Jets.
“I don’t know about that,” Crossman said with a laugh.