Second only to the lockout, the NFL's new kickoff rule was the biggest topic of debate this offseason, and the majority were not in favor of the league's decision to move the ball up to the 35 yard line.
According to interviews with Patriots reporters, Bill Belichick—the long-time head coach in New England—expressed his disgust, claiming that the kickoff has instantly become a non-play and that the ball might as well be placed at the 20 yard line to begin drives.
Personally, I tried to keep an open mind about the rule change, but I did think it was a bit unnecessary and took away from the excitement of the game. However, after halftime of the NFL's opening game between the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints, I was convinced that we would not see a single kickoff return touchdown this season.
The Pack's Mason Crosby and the Saints' Thomas Morstead continually booted the ball to the very depths of the end zone on kickoffs and the teams' return men seemed to kneel down more than worshipers at mass.
Then it happened.
Midway through the third quarter, Green Bay's rookie return man reeled in a kick with two yards to spare in his own end zone and did the unthinkable: With Mike McCarthy and almost everyone in the stadium staring in utter shock, Cobb carried the ball past the goal line and began a journey that would end in tying the all-time kick return record of 108 yards.
At first, it looked like he would only make it just past the 20, making his high risk worth little reward. But after appearing to go down, the rookie somehow stayed on his feet and his tremendous speed took him the rest of the way for the touchdown.
It could be the only kickoff return for a TD in the NFL this season. It did take a good bit of luck to accomplish, and it could have easily ended very badly for Cobb. However, although I could barely believe what I saw, my doubts about the new rule had vanished when Packers' corner Jarret Bush tackled Cobb in celebration.
Everyone who thought the big return was a fluke probably changed their mind when Darren Sproles also almost broke free on the ensuing kickoff to answer Cobb's score. He reached the 46 yard line in Green Bay territory before being brought down.
Maybe the new kickoff rule isn't such a bad thing. It's a little too early to tell for certain, but all it will take is a few bold players to step out of end zone and take a risk to bolster the excitement that many thought would disappear as touchbacks increase.
Cobb claims that God told him to give it a go, but I don't think it will take supernatural intervention for such an occurrence to happen again this year. There was two big returns on Thursday night, and it was only the first game.
Is it possible that the rule change just made the NFL even more exciting? Bill Belichick may just be forced to change his mind...
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