FOXBOROUGH — Did you remember that Patriots special teamer Nate Ebner used to play rugby?
That background came into play as the Patriots played the Eagles on Sunday. Midway through the second quarter at Gillette Stadium, right after the Patriots’ second touchdown, New England’s kickoff took an unorthodox turn. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski tossed the ball to Ebner, who drop-kicked it only 24 yards into Philadelphia territory — a lot like you might see on a rugby field.
The move, which was legal, caught just about everybody — including a FOX cameraman — by surprise, but the Eagles’ Seyi Ajirotutu fielded it cleanly at the Philadelphia 41. The Eagles then drove 59 yards for their first venture into New England territory and their first touchdown.
“I think everything we did, we’re trying to do what we think’s best,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked why New England decided to attempt an onside kick at that point. “We thought that was the best thing to do.”
Ebner was a standout rugby player growing up, and didn’t play football until walking on at Ohio State in 2009.
Here a look at that Nate Ebner drop kick: pic.twitter.com/hWSIe5Z4l9— Rachel G. Bowers (@RachelGBowers) December 6, 2015
A former NFL officiating executive clarified the rule on the play in a tweet shortly after:
On a kick off, you can use a place kick (off the ground) or a drop kick. But that might be the first on a kick off I've ever seen #PHIvsNE— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) December 6, 2015