Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury made a confounding decision to attempt a 68-yard field goal with time running out in the first half of the team’s Week 3 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The ensuing return joined the ranks of two other record-setting plays in NFL history that, coincidentally, all led to the same result on the scoreboard.
Despite the head-scratching decision, Kingsbury and his Cardinals are undefeated. It looks like the team may be approaching the final stages of its rebuild, which offers an excellent road map for the Jaguars, who look lost three games into the Trevor Lawrence/Urban Meyer Era.
A ludicrous 68-yard field goal attempt led to a record-tying touchdown
Following Week 2’s win over the Minnesota Vikings, Kliff Kingsbury said that he thought a long field goal right before halftime was a turning point in the game. The coach told reporters, per ESPN, “I thought the end of the half was a huge swing. Matt [Prater] hits a 62-yarder that gives us that momentum, and we were able to hang on at the end.”
The former Texas Tech QB-turned-coach likely had that moment in mind when he again had Prater line up for a long attempt at the end of the first half against Jacksonville.
The difference between the two kicks is that, against the Vikings, the kick was within Prater’s prodigious range. Against the Jaguars, the kick was (at the time) four yards further out than the longest successful field goal in NFL history.
There are two fascinating notes about the field goal attempt.
First, the record Prater was attempting to break was his own. As a Denver Bronco in the thin air of Mile High Stadium, Prater made a 64-yard kick in 2013. Second, in an incredible coincidence, Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker broke this record just a few hours later. The NFL’s best kicker hit a 66-yarder game-winner against the Detroit Lions, setting a new kicking benchmark.
In Arizona, Prater predictably missed the kick. Jacksonville’s return specialist, Jamal Agnew, then took the ball to the house, putting the Jaguars up 13-7. Against a better team, this could have cost Kingsbury and the Cardinals big-time.
Luckily for Kingsbury, his Arizona Cardinals outscored the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars 24-3 in the second half. However, it was the type of decision that should make Cards fans worried. Kingsbury’s relative inexperience and decision-making could come back to haunt the club, despite this game’s outcome.
It was precisely the type of decision that Kingsbury detractors point to when they question if the coach, who Texas Tech fired after a 35-40 record, is cut out for the NFL.
The longest touchdown plays in NFL history
An NFL field is 100-yards long with a 10-yard end zone. That means that the longest play in the game can be 109-yards at best. Since the offense can’t start inside the end zone, only defensive and special teams plays can reach this record milestone.
When Jamal Agnew took Prater’s kick all the way back, his 109-yard effort equaled two other historic plays.
On November 4, 2007, in a Week 9 matchup against the Vikings, then-San Diego Chargers defensive back Antonio Cromartie returned a field goal 109-yards for a score.
The situation was very similar to yesterday’s feat. Deadlocked at seven right before half, the Vikes attempted a long field goal. Cromartie caught the ball and barely stopped his momentum from carrying him out of bounds before going the entire length of the field.
Just like Jacksonville, the late first-half score was for naught. The Vikings outscored the Chargers 28-3 in the second half to win 35-17.
Six years later, in a game once again involving Minnesota, kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson took the opening kick of the game back for a touchdown on October 27, 2013, against the Green Bay Packers.
In what seems like a trend, the Vikings were unable to hold on and beat the Packers. Green Bay won the game 44-31 to drop their NFC North rival to 1-6.
The moral of the story is that as impressive and exciting as a 109-yard return is, this feat has never led to a W.
The Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars are similar teams at different points of the rebuilding process
In 2018, the Arizona Cardinals hit rock bottom. The team ended the season 3-13, which earned the club the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
The organization hired an unproven college coach (Kliff Kingsbury) and drafted a player they hoped would become a franchise quarterback (Kyler Murray).
Sound familiar Jacksonville Jaguars fans?
As tough as the first three weeks have been for the Jaguars, there can be a light at the end of the tunnel, and Arizona is proof.
The Cardinals suffered through a 5-10-1 and an 8-8 season in Murray’s first two years. The futility led to questions about both Kliff Kingsbury and the quarterback’s viability as pros. The organization stayed the course, though. It built through the draft, picking reliable starters in recent years such as Budda Baker, Zaven Collins, Isaiah Simmons, Chase Edmonds, Christian Kirk, and Rondale Moore.
The front office has also taken the opportunity to add superstars with the cap space provided by having a young QB and a core on rookie deals. DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Rodney Hudson, Chandler Jones, and J.J. Watt all fall into this category.
For the Jags, Trevor Jones has struggled so far this season. The former Clemson Tiger has thrown seven interceptions in just three games. First-time NFL head coach Urban Meyer has looked overmatched at times as well on the sidelines and recently told an opposing head coach that every week in the NFL is like facing Alabama.
These aren’t great signs for sure, but if the Jaguars organization can use the Cardinals as a guide and get their coach and QB through this rough patch, it could set them up for a promising future, just like the Cardinals now seem to have.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference