It was the first play of the second quarter when Devin Hester took an end-around into the end zone for the Falcons' fourth touchdown of a Thursday night game against Tampa Bay, but what may not have been immediately apparent is just how big a role a rookie played spring Hester for a score.
In his day-after news conference, head coach Mike Smith called Jake Matthews' block on the end-around "veteran-like," and it no doubt took a good amount of athleticism to pull off, especially coming off an ankle injury.
"He almost scored with his man," Smith said. "This is a young man that's playing in his rookie season and has come out and recovered very quickly from an ankle injury. You just can't say how mature this guy is — not only on the field but off the field. I've been around guys that have had similar injuries that would not have been back in the timeframe that he has returned to play."
Let's take a closer look at Matthews' block (and if you like the All-22 view, check out Game Rewind):
Matthews, circled in red, is responsible for the weakside linebacker. The play is going to end up coming to his left, but he has to sell the run to the right.
As the ball is snapped, Matt Ryan fakes the handoff to Antone Smith and the offensive line crashes right. Matthews takes his immediate steps in that direction to draw the linebacker away from the play.
What you're looking at in this shot is the moment of recognition for the linebacker. He's gotten eyes on the fact that Smith doesn't have the ball and he sees Hester streaking to the left in the backfield. Look at Matthews and his positioning. He's gotten himself squared up with his power toward his left hip and he's wheeling himself around his left side to protect that area of the field as Hester takes the handoff.
Now we see the true impact of that block. Matthews has excellent positioning on the linebacker with his head on the backer's right shoulder, fending off the left side of the field. There's nothing but green space in front of Hester with Patrick DiMarco leading the way.
In another veteran move, Matthews sticks to his block. He knows his responsibility: entertain the linebacker. He doesn't peel off to try to pick up the safety. That's what DiMarco's job is. By staying on the linebacker, Matthews allows DiMarco to seal off the safety and get Hester into the end zone. Credit Julio Jones for a great block on the left side of the field, as well, but you can see this play started at the 20-yard line and Matthews has his man engaged 10 yards down field.
And, finally, in this angle, we see Matthews just about to disengage with his block, right around the 5-yard line, meaning he was able to tie up the weakside linebacker for 15 crucial yards on one of the bigger plays of the game. Definitely veteran-like.