Distant Replay: 10 years ago, Patriots OL Dan Connolly returned a kickoff 71 yards

Doug Farrar
·3 min read

Dan Connolly was an undrafted free agent out of Southeast Missouri State who signed with the Jaguars in 2005, but wound up on the Patriots’ roster in 2006. He stayed with New England through the 2014 season, playing in 85 games and starting 71 games for some of the better offensive lines in recent NFL history. But what Connolly is perhaps best known for is a secret ability, at least in the mind of Bill Belichick — the ability to return kickoffs at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds. Connolly had four kick returns in his career for 106 yards, and the most notable came against the Packers in a 31-27 win in Week 15 of the 2010 season, on December 19, 2010.

The 2010 Packers were on fire with Aaron Rodgers playing as well as any quarterback has played in a single season, and an underrated defense that helped Green Bay get past the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. But their special teams needed a reboot after this:

The return came with 2:17 left in the first half, and it’s the longest kick return by an offensive lineman in NFL history, per the Elias Sports Bureau. Linemate Matt Light pretty much summed it up for everybody.

Per Monique Walker of the Boston Globe, Connolly was unavailable to media after the game due to a head injury, but everyone else was talking about this.

“I’ve never seen anything happen so slow in my life,” Tom Brady said with a laugh. “It was an unbelievable play. That really was a big play in the game… they won’t be kicking it to him anymore, I’ll tell you that.”

“Dan Connolly probably has the greatest return average in the National Football League,” offensive tackle Matt Light said. “That was incredible. It was a heck of an effort. I couldn’t believe it when I was watching it, to be honest with you.”

Someone else who couldn’t believe it was Packers safety Charlie Peprah, one of the special-teamers who had a shot at ending Connolly’s vertical speed, and completely blew it.

“I tried to go for the ball, thinking he was a big man without ball skills,” Peprah said. “I should have just made the tackle. You just saw a big dude rumbling down the field. That play put them in scoring position at the end of the first half. Anytime you score right before the half, you have the momentum.”

The Patriots did indeed score at the end of the first half, and they needed to — they were on the wrong end of a 17-7 deficit before Brady hit Aaron Hernandez for a two-yard touchdown with 1:08 remaining in the second quarter. Packers backup Matt Flynn (Rodgers missed the came due to a concussion he’d suffered against the Lions the week before) threw for three touchdowns in this game, but after the Connolly play, the momentum completely shifted.

As it should have.

“For a big guy, he gets a game ball,” defensive tackle Vince Wilfork concluded. “To do what he did, he got us pumped. Just to see a big guy running like that. Me, I would have to take a time out and get subbed or something.”

Most of us can relate to that, which makes Connolly’s return all the more amazing.