DENVER – Do you think icing the kicker is useless? It seems like it most of the time.
Late Monday night, a timeout and a conversation between two teammates during that break was the reason the Denver Broncos were able to pull off a game-winning field goal block to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 24-21.
The first time Chargers rookie kicker Younghoe Koo tried a game-tying field goal with five seconds left, he made it but the Broncos had called timeout right before the snap. We’ve seen this trick for years now. Broncos coach Vance Joseph said he called the timeout because he wanted to “see how [Koo] reacted.” Koo would have to try again.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe almost blocked the attempt before the timeout. He got past rookie Chargers right guard Dan Feeney and said he was so close he felt the ball graze his fingers. It wasn’t the first time Wolfe got the best of Feeney on Monday night.
“We were kicking that guy’s [behind] the whole game,” Wolfe said. “We were knocking him back the whole time. Every time they tried to kick a field goal, we were getting a push.”
Wolfe said he knew what would happen on the kick after the timeout. Wolfe told fellow defensive lineman Shelby Harris that Feeney was going to concentrate on him. Feeney wouldn’t want Wolfe getting through again. The gap inside of Feeney would then be open for Harris, and Wolfe told Harris to attack it.
“I was like, ‘He’s going to lean on me. Shelby, just go. Just go,” Wolfe said.
“I knew he was going to block it. He just, voom, right through there.”
Wolfe attacked Feeney’s outside shoulder. The gap inside Feeney opened up for Harris. Harris rushed through, put his hand up and blocked Koo’s kick, finishing a 24-21 win.
“I’m sure my fingers will hurt tomorrow, but I’m good,” Harris said.
The block might have looked a little lucky, but it wasn’t. This is why teams go through endless meetings and practice, to be ready for any situation. Every team in the NFL has talent, and the margin between most teams is razor thin. The Chargers looked like they were going to get blown out when they trailed 24-7 in the fourth quarter, but here they were at the end of regulation, lining up to send the game to overtime. The difference in winning a game like Monday night might be something as imperceptible as a defensive lineman anticipating how a guard will block a field-goal attempt, and figuring out with his teammate during a timeout how to beat it.
“If it wasn’t for Wolfe on that play, I wouldn’t have had any chance at all,” Harris said. “It was a two-man job. We dominated the guard and made the play.”
And given how competitive the AFC West seems this season, a win over the Chargers could end up being a reason the Broncos make the playoffs. You never know.
“I feel like every one of our games is a must win, because I think we have the best division in the game,” Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas said.
Harris stood at his locker after Monday night’s win as waves of reporters came to ask him about his big play and his technique in trying to block field goals (“It’s like a craft,” Harris said with a big laugh). Nobody could have envisioned Harris as the Broncos’ hero before Monday night’s game. Harris hadn’t exactly made a name for himself. Before Monday night he had played in eight NFL games for the Oakland Raiders, in 2014 and 2015. He didn’t play in any regular-season games last season. He was cut by the New York Jets in late August, and was out of football until he signed with the Cowboys’ practice squad on Dec. 22. Dallas cut him Jan. 10. Harris was one of 13 mostly anonymous players the Broncos signed to a futures contract on Jan. 25. Had it not been for some injuries on the defensive line in preseason, Harris might not have made the Broncos’ opening-week roster.
But Harris made the team, got the start at defensive end on Monday night and ended up making the biggest play of the night on “Monday Night Football.” What a story.
“That’s the best part of this league, when you see that happen for guys,” Wolfe said as he sat in front of his locker. “He’s just a good-hearted guy, man. He cares about his teammates, he cares about everybody, he cares about people in general. To see him go out there and basically win the game for us, that’s a huge accomplishment for him. I’m just really happy for him.”
Football can be a beautiful, complex game. A tremendous amount of preparation goes into practically everything that happens on the field. We spend all our time talking about the quarterbacks. We’ll watch highlights of a great catch by a receiver, and count up the points he just earned for our fantasy team. But on Monday night, a big divisional game was decided by Wolfe guessing right on how he’d be blocked, and telling Harris – who didn’t even play in the NFL last season – how he could make the game-winning play.
“Big moment right here. Big moment,” Harris said in between his many laughs, as he soaked in his night in the spotlight. “But it’s not about me, it’s about the fact the team is 1-0.”
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