This past weekend, one of the biggest plays of the game (there were a lot of them) was undoubtedly Pettigrew’s fumble that was returned for a touchdown. But how did it happen? I mean, it’s not every week that you see a ball just muscled away from a guy. Here’s what I saw on the game tape.
The important part of this play is the left side. Calvin Johnson runs a deep in to get in between the linebackers and safeties. If the linebackers get deep to cut off that route, Pettigrew should be open underneath on the curl.
It unfolds pretty much like you’d expect—the linebackers get deep and Stafford takes the underneath route, which is wide open. The thing that surprised me though (and I believe Pettigrew) is that the corner left CJ so quickly. He breaks on Pettigrew’s route immediately, even before the LB can react. As Pettigrew caught the ball, he glanced over his left shoulder to gauge where the linebacker was. He then spun to his right to try and beat the linebacker to get some yards after the catch.
As he spun, he seems surprised to see the cornerback right in his face. Considering his route broke to the inside and he only checked over his left shoulder, he probably never saw the cornerback until this exact moment.
This looks just like when you round a corner and someone is unexpectedly right in your path. Deer in the headlights. Titans CB Alterraun Verner confirmed this in his postgame press conference:
The tight end didn’t see me when he turned, so when I hit him I felt like he was shocked, so I was like ‘might as well give it a try’. If worse comes to worse, I’m going to make the tackle. Somehow I was able to get the ball out and help this team win.
It also looks like he tucks the ball under his left arm as soon as he makes the catch and begins to bring his right arm up to stiff arm the linebacker. Being surprised by the corner, Pettigrew was stuck with one arm on the ball against the DB’s two arms, a matchup he wasn’t going to win. Also, credit the cornerback for going for the strip rather than the big “Jacked Up” hit we’ve become accustomed to seeing in the NFL. Heads up play.
So while this ultimately falls on Pettigrew to be more aware of the positioning of the defenders, it seems like a freak play where he tried to do too much and got caught.