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John DeShazier's turning point in the Saints win over the Bucs

Posted Nov 6, 2017

Hardee's blocked punt changed the game

The reason coaches stress the importance of special teams, and insist that game-changing plays can be made from the units, is because there’s importance in special teams, and game-changing plays actually can be made from the units.

Take Sunday’s 30-10, New Orleans Saints victory over Tampa Bay in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, for example.

The Saints won their sixth consecutive game – the first time a New Orleans team has done that since the 2011 team won its final eight regular-season games, and then its Wild Card playoff game – in part because defensive back Justin Hardee produced his biggest special teams play of the season.

New Orleans led 3-0 after a 40-yard field goal by Wil Lutz capped its game-opening, 58-yard drive, and the defense began its smothering day with a three-and-out, forcing the Buccaneers to punt. A false start penalty pushed the line of scrimmage back to Tampa Bay’s 28 and from there, Bryan Anger dropped back in formation to attempt to flip field position with an effective punt.

Enter Hardee.

Hardee, lined up on the line inside and on the left, simply shot the gap between the guard and center and pretty much was allowed to run, untouched, toward Anger. In fact, Hardee was so clean that he didn’t need to lay out for the punt block – he simply ran, angled off by shading to his left (Anger’s right), and easily blocked the punt with two hands.

The ensuing bounce couldn’t have been more pro-Hardee – the blocked punt perfectly bounced to the in-stride Hardee, who ran the final seven yards for his first NFL touchdown and a 9-0 Saints lead with 6:31 left in the first quarter.

New Orleans never looked back from there, with that special teams score (the Saints’ first score off a punt block since Michael Mauti did so against Atlanta on Oct. 15, 2015) providing a spark that ignited the team.

 

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