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Re-look at Mountaineer Shot as Dolphins sign new punter

NFL: DEC 01 Eagles at Dolphins Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On December 1, 2019, the Miami Dolphins pulled off one of the best fake field goals in NFL history. The play, dubbed “Mountaineer Shot” in the playbook, resulted in the league’s first kicker touchdown reception since 1977, the first completed pass between two specialists since 2004, and the first punter to kicker touchdown pass since 1964 (and that is a technicality because the (then) San Diego Chargers’ punter John Hadly was also their quarterback and their kicker Keith Lincoln was also a running back). It was a historic play.

News on Friday morning that the Dolphins were adding punter Michael Palardy seems to indicate that half of the Moutaineer Shot touchdown pass was now heading out of South Florida. Miami recently signed kicker Jason Sanders, who caught the pass, to a contract extension, but punter Matt Haack, serving as the quarterback on the play, is scheduled to become a free agent. Palardy’s addition makes is seem as though the Dolphins have decided they will not be re-signing Haack.

Kicking-wise, it makes sense. Haack is a master of pinning a team inside the 20-yard line, but his punting average of 44.7 yards was only 26th in the league. But, it does break up the pieces of a key moment in Dolphins lore. This morning, we take a look back at Mountaineer Shot as a farewell to punter Matt Haack.

Down 13-7 with 4:44 remaining in the first half, the Dolphins were facing a 4th-and-Goal from the Philadelphia Eagles’ one-yard line, after failing to score on seven previous “and-Goal” plays. The field goal was disappointing, but at least Miami would get points with the Sanders kick.

Except, the Dolphins had called “Mountaineer Shot” instead of a field goal attempt. Suddenly, the team split apart, leaving center Daniel Kilgore alone in the middle of the field and punter Matt Haack deep in shotgun. Half the team went to the left and half went to the right. It was reminiscent of an Indianapolis Colts’ fake punt formation, where wide receiver Griff Whalen became the center and Colt Anderson became the quarterback after all of the shifts.

It did not go well for the Colts.

The Dolphins looked like they were set up for the same kind of failure, with two defenders ready to rush past Kilgore upon the snap.

At the snap, Haack faked to his right, looking like he wanted to throw a screen pass.

Then, seemingly in a panic when that option was not available, Haack turned and tried to run to the left, hoping to pick up a block.

Facing five defenders with just Kilgore in the middle of the field, the play is clearly about to end as well as the Colts’ play did. Except, Sanders has leaked through the line and is all alone in the endzone. Just as Haack was about to be tackled, he threw a pass to Sanders.

Sanders dropped to a knee and caught the pass, scoring the touchdown.

After the game, Sanders was, of course, asked about the play. He replied, “I loved it. How often do you get to see a kicker touchdown. Or even a punter throw to a kicker? I think that is the unique part.”

He continued, explaining about the execution of the play, “They called the play and then everything just happened so fast. I got set outside and they gave us the look we were looking for. I know the ball was going to be snapped and right when he said set, I was like, ‘Alright. It’s on.’”

The catch and touchdown, both firsts at any level for Sanders, came on a play Miami had practiced for the previous few weeks, just looking for the right time to break it out.

“It was all based on what they were going to do,” Sanders continued. “We are just banking on them doing this, so we can do that. Matt did a good job, he held on to the ball for as long as he could, and once I got off, he dumped it off and I let it come in.”

Sanders said he joked that with Mountaineer Shot in the playbook, he probably needed to get some work on the JUGS machine. “But, no, it’s not going to come in that hot,” he said laughing. “The play is designed to be just like how it was, a nice little bunny throw, because if I am open, I am going to be wide open.”

Sanders was wide open. Haack timed the pass and threw it perfectly. And Mountaineer Shot went from looking like a busted fake that would be a permanent member of a blooper real to the 2019 NFL Play of the Year - giving Miami the honor for the second-straight year after the team’s 2018 Miami Miracle.

If Haack’s time with the Dolphins is over, he should be remembered for being a really good punter for four years with the team. He will definitely be remembered for a bunny throw to Jason Sanders in 2019.