Introducing the Watermelon Kick: Inside the craziest onside kick ever

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Fantastic day of football. Weekend, really. Start on Thursday. Coming-out party for Joe Burrow, 23 years old, putting up 30 points for a Cincinnati team with a lot of holes, losing to 25-year-old Baker Mayfield. On Sunday, Jared Goff (25), Kyler Murray (23) and Lamar Jackson (23) were in total control in dominant wins. Patrick Mahomes (25) needed to do some Patrick Mahomes things in overtime, Josh Allen (24) launched gorgeous and effortless deep balls for Buffalo, Dak Prescott (27) threw for 450 yards to win the craziest game of his life, and Wilson (the old man at 31) capped everything with the second five-TD-pass game of his career Sunday night. That game—Seattle 35, New England 30—definitely should not have been on TVs in any cardiac units around the United States.

The message this morning is three-fold:

1. The game misses the fans tremendously. But the drama Sunday, all the way till a half-hour before midnight Eastern Time when Cam Newton was upended on the last play of the game two yards shy of the winning touchdown in Seattle, was as good as it gets.

2. Zero players of the approximately 2,272 active and practice-squad players on rosters have tested positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks of the season, a remarkable achievement. Though the injury bug is awful, the COVID bug is nonexistent—so far.

3. The quarterbacks just keep on coming. The over-35 set—Brady, Rivers, Roethlisberger, Rodgers—went 4-0 Sunday, winning by an average of two touchdowns a game. But the QB farm system continues to churn out quality. Eleven of the 13 quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 picks over the past five years started over the weekend. Justin Herbert, the 11th, who looks like he’s 17 and in bad need of a haircut, went throw for throw with Mahomes most of the day at SoFi.

The play of the day: the Watermelon Kick.

“That’s what we call it,” Prescott said with some glee 90 minutes after the game. “The ball just kind of sits there like a watermelon, not on a tee.”

When I talk to players after games, quite often the answers are pretty plain, and they speak in press-conference-speak. But Prescott was fired up in his car driving home with his girlfriend. “Amen, AMEN!” he said about the win. “We could have been 0-2!

Dallas was down 39-24 with six minutes left. The Cowboys scored but missed the two-point conversion. “So we knew we needed two scores in the last five minutes,” Prescott said. “Not easy.” The Cowboys burned their timeouts and forced Atlanta to punt with three minutes left. In 68 seconds, they drove to a TD, Prescott running in his third TD of the day, and the extra point made it 39-37, Atlanta.

Dallas needed to recover the onside kick, or the team would be 0-2. Here came kicker Greg Zuerlein out for the kick. With no tee. Prescott described the next few seconds in vivid detail.

“I have never been in a game like this,” he said. “Maybe the playoff game my rookie year against Green Bay, but we lost that one, and it didn’t come down to a play like this one. It was incredible, honestly. We’ve seen it done in practice. [Offensive coordinator] Kellen Moore saw it get set up, and [quarterbacks coach] Doug Nussmeier told me, ‘Watermelon kick!’ “

It’s actually an ingenious idea. Because players can’t line up more than one yard from the spot of the kickoff (they used to be able to get a five-yard running start), kicking team players can’t get the kind of running start they used to on onside kicks. So Zuerlein and special-teams coach John Fassel had practiced a form of the onside kick where Zuerlein would kick a spinning ball diagonally, and fairly slowly. Cowboy players could run to the skidding ball and attempt to block out, as on a basketball rebound, any opposing players who might be trying to get to the ball.

Obviously, the Falcons hadn’t seen it before. They peered at the spinning, slow-moving ball like it was diseased and they didn’t want to touch it.

“I asked our punter, Chris Jones, why [the Falcons] wouldn’t just dive on it,” Prescott told me, “and he said the way it spins makes it really hard to do that. They were probably afraid that if they jumped on it, it might get loose and we’d recover.”

Better that than what happened: Dallas cornerback C.J. Goodwin, once the ball traveled exactly 10 yards downfield, jumped it and won a wrestling match for it with three Falcons. Prescott’s 24-yard dart to rookie CeeDee Lamb (“CeeDee is smart as hell, great feel for the game,” Prescott said) helped set up Zeurlein’s winning field goal with four seconds left.

It all was made possible by the Watermelon Kick.

Prescott: “In the locker room after the game, I saw [guard] Zack Martin, and we both said the same thing to each other: I don’t know if you realize what this means! No way we could start 0-2. It just couldn’t happen. We lost so many guys on offense. Three tackles, our tight end, Blake Jarwin. But you know that next-man-up mentality. We’ve got it here. We believe in the guys behind the starters. And I will tell you, they played great today.

“The other thing that was important today—not just the win—but the way coach McCarthy was with us at halftime. That was an important time for our team. We were down big [29-10 at halftime] and he said, ‘Forget the final score. Let’s see the team we’ve got out there in the second half. Let’s see the men we’ve got.’ He’s easy to follow.”

Amazing. Prescott threw for 450. He ran in three scores. No talk about that. Just the crazy onside kick, and an early season saved from the cliff.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.