The punt had only just hit its apex and begun its decent toward the waiting arms of T.Y. Hilton when I turned and said, to no one in particular, "He's gone."
The biggest play of the Indianapolis Colts' 20-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills was the 75-yard punt return for a score by the rookie wide receiver that staked Indy to a 7-0 lead they would never relinquish.
Returns for scores have been rare in Indianapolis for more than a decade, as has any semblance of quality special teams play.
The 2012 Colts have been no exception, ranking below league average in all but two special teams categories: kickoffs (thanks to the fine work of Pat McAfee) and punt returns.
Thanks to the outstanding work of Hilton, the Colts rank fourth in the NFL in punt return DVOA. Ironically, the best team in the league at returning punts are the Buffalo Bills, who say Hilton's play beat them in Indianapolis.
Hilton ranks sixth in the NFL among players with at least 15 returns, illustrating that his home run against Buffalo isn't likely to be his only big return of 2012.
The return itself was the perfect mix of great blocking and excellent vision and quickness by Hilton.
With the kick still in the air, the Colts had effective neutralized the gunners for Buffalo. Josh Gordy took out his man, while LaVon Brazill and Teddy Williams doubled the gunner coming from the high side.
Before Hilton ever caught the punt, the seeds for a big return were planted. He had a full 10-yard cushion to make his first move.
The cushion was key as there was one unblocked Bill, Garrison Sanborn. Because Hilton had the forward momentum afforded by his blockers, he was able to juke the first would-be tackler, essentially springing him for the long runback.
After making his initial stutter, Hilton needed just one more cut to slide past the well-blocked Buffalo defenders.
From that point on, it was pure speed.
The Colts have found a recipe that works on punt returns. It's one part blocking and one part speed.
The only worry for Indianapolis is what to do if Hilton becomes too valuable as a receiver to risk on punt returns.
It's a problem they'll happily adjust to.
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