"Records meant to be broken," says Hobbs after 108-yard return
Swollen with media anxious to hit the locker rooms, the elevator from the press box at Giants Stadium was about ready to descend when someone called out for it to wait. One more person had to squeeze on.
It was Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff.
On the ride down, no one bothered to make small talk.
It would have been awkward.
Despite being outplayed for most of the first half, the Jets were still hanging around, trailing 14-7 at the break in Sunday's season opener. Then Westhoff's crew kicked off to Ellis Hobbs to open the second half, and – boom! - disaster.
On an epic scale.
Hobbs returned the kick 108 yards for a game-changing touchdown. It was the longest kickoff return in NFL history – three guys shared the old mark of 106 yards (the last being Roy Green of the Cardinals against the Cowboys in 1979) – and it tied the record for the longest play of any kind in league annals. Chicago's Nathan Vasher (2005) and Devon Hester (2006) returned missed field goals for 108 yards.
“I’m very proud of that,” Hobbs said. “But records are meant to be broken.”
And kicks are meant to be returned. Buried 8 yards deep in the end zone, the safe play for Hobbs would have been to take a knee. But “safe” isn't in the brash cornerback's philosophy. Remember when he gambled going for an interception in preseason as a rookie? He got burned for a touchdown and stubbornly vowed he would do it again if the opportunity arose.
“I tell those guys in practice all the time, ‘I’m bringing it out. I don’t care,’” Hobbs said. “You don’t make plays sitting on the sideline ... They pay me to make plays. They pay me to do a job. They don’t pay me to take knees. This isn’t college or high school. This is the NFL; we’re professionals. They pay me to return the ball and they pay the guys in front of me to block. Why not give them something to celebrate?”
Defensive lineman LeKevin Smith, who made a key block on the return, said Hobbs' aggressive decision-making didn't surprise him.
“You just gotta do what the man says,” Smith said with a smile. “I'm never thinking (about a touchback). I leave that up to the returner to decide. I'm always thinking of my keys. I turned and found my man and when I heard the 'go' call I went to get him.”
Hobbs' other kick-return TD came last year, a 93-yarder against the Texans. As on that score, Hobbs glanced up at the scoreboard as he neared the goal line, reveling in his moment in the national spotlight.
“I didn’t feel any pressure, so I said, ‘It’s show time, let’s go,'” said Hobbs, whose two other returns covered a more modest 29 and 19 yards. “I took a peek. I didn’t keep staring at it. I didn’t do that. I took a peek at the screen and I kept running. You don’t want to overdue it and pull a hamstring. But any track runner knows the fastest runners are the most fluid runners. Just keep your form and keep running.”
Chances are, Hobbs will keep running on the kickoff team. The Patriots led the league last year with a 26.8-yard average as both Hobbs (36.0 yards on 10 returns) and running back Laurence Maroney (28.0 on 28 returns) were sensational. Maroney finished second in the league (to the Jets' Justin Miller) among players with enough returns to qualify. He's a viable option again, but since he's going to be shouldering more of the load offensively, the Patriots might want to limit his work.
Asked if he would have been as daring as Hobbs, Maroney just smiled. “To be honest, probably not,” he said. “That's why I'm not back there and Ellis is.”