On Tuesday, Carolina Panthers special teamer Teddy Williams explained one of the oddest plays in Super Bowl 50.
Williams was part of the punt return coverage team that allowed the 61-yard return by Jordan Norwood, the longest punt return in Super Bowl history.
Williams and fellow special teamer Colin Jones were right in front of Norwood but didn’t tackle him when he caught the short, 28-yard punt from Brad Nortman. Norwood shrugged off the light tackling and ran 61 yards down the sideline before being tackled by Mario Addison at the Carolina 14.
Because he can’t keep his eyes on the returner at all times as he goes down the field against his blocker, Williams used his instincts.
“Usually when it’s a shorter punt, the returner is racing up to catch it and they call fair catch in the process,” Williams said. “In the process of me getting rid of my guy, I see the returner running up so it lets me know it’s a shorter punt.”
Williams wants to play off Jones. Both are gunners, which means they are speedsters on the outside of the formation tasked with getting to the returner first.
With the exception of a few games missed because of injury, the two were the main gunners for Carolina all season long.
“So by the time I get over there, I see the way Colin reacts to him, and I know how Colin is,” Williams said. “If Colin gets down there first, he’s going to hit him. I see Colin let up and I hit him and I kind of grabbed him, and then he stopped. I was like (dang) he called fair catch and I’m about to get a penalty, so I let back.
“And then everybody stopped, and he just took off. I was like oh (expletive). I’m going to have to go get him.”
Add to Williams’ instincts was that Norwood had called fair catch on five of the nine punts that came his way in the postseason and it’s logical to assume someone running up for a short punt would wave for a fair catch.
“It was a short ball, and I saw the guy run past me so I made up my mind right there that I was going to catch it and see what I could do with it,” Norwood told reporters after the game.
The same thing happened two weeks before to Carolina against Arizona. Patrick Peterson ran up to field a short, 34-yard Nortman punt at the Arizona 39 and muffed it. Carolina recovered and would go on to score.
“It’s just one of those freak accidents,” Williams said. “It’s kind of crazy how it happened in two games straight.
“That’s the first two times I’ve seen someone run up and catch a punt like that. You have to play off the rest of your teammates. Colin and I did a really good job all season playing off each other and really react well off each other so it’s crazy how it happened. Freak accident.”
Williams said there’s not much he could have done differently on the play, which Addison – a defensive end – saved from being a touchdown. Denver would kick a field goal and go up 13-7 midway through the second quarter.
But two days later, Williams was still beating himself up.
“You want to make that play and ultimately that play could have changed the game,” Williams said. “It flipped the field. Luckily our defense held them to three points but it could have been a situation where it would have been a lot better for us. You take those three points off the board and give us the momentum, give us that field position.”