The Dallas Cowboys (1-1) recovering an onside kick with 1:48 minutes remaining against the Atlanta Falcons (0-2) made it possible for them to emerge with a 40-39 victory on Sunday afternoon.
On the play, Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein positioned the ball directly on the field's turf and kicked it so that the ball rotated in a horizontal spinning motion while slowly advancing up the field. By rule, the ball must advance 10 yards before an offensive player can touch the ball.
As the ball moved up the field, a small group of Falcons players appeared to be in position to fall on the ball and recover it for Atlanta. Instead, it was former Falcon C.J. Goodwin who leapt on the ball and recovered it for Dallas.
"It looked like it was a slow-roller as opposed to a high-bouncer," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We've got to go capture it when the moment comes. I'll get a better view of it tonight, but from what I saw, it was a slow-roller and one that we should make the aggressive move to go get it."
In discussing why Falcons players didn't immediately jump on the ball, it's worth considering the role those who were nearest to the ball typically have in those situations.
When a ball is kicked so that it takes multiple hard bounces before leaping high into the air, the first row of players on the return team are assigned to block the oncoming runners trying to recover the ball in an effort to give the players behind them a clean look to catch it.
Quinn explained after the game that the roles of the players on the return unit should alter depending on the type of ball kicked.
"I think they definitely know," Quinn said. "The front three are usually blocking as they're going. The high-bouncers go to the second side, so the front line, generally on an onside kick, they're looking to get a block first and then the hop goes to the next player. When that instance happens, and it's not one that is a high-hopper then you just transfer in and go to your ball. You're looking at your assignment first of who you have to go block. Certainly the ball and then your assignment, they definitely know the rule."
Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who was a star offensive weapon for Atlanta with 109 receiving yards and two touchdowns, was a member of the hands team but said he was on the other side of the field from where the ball was kicked.
Quinn and the Atlanta players who spoke after the game expressed the need to take away key lessons from this defeat and use them to become a better team moving forward. For Ridley, a takeaway was understanding how to win in that exact situation if it arises in the future, a situation he hopes to be a part of the next time around.
"It was just crazy," Ridley said. "I wish it was my side. I just can't believe it; we've got to get that. I wish it was me, I would have, I don't know. We take that as a group, we lost that as a group."