Nothing is as it seems: Lions, Dolphins can’t get enough fake punts

Lions fullback Jed Collins gained 24 yards on a pass from punter Sam Martin.

Andrew Weber/Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Martin of the Detroit Lions is one of the best punters in the NFL, with a 47.6-yard average on his 37 punts coming into Week 10, but early on in Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins, Lions coach Jim Caldwell seemed just as content having Martin throw the ball as he did having him kick it.

On the game’s opening drive, Detroit faced a 4th-and-6 from its own 45-yard line and sent Martin out to kick the ball away to Miami. But Lions fullback Jed Collins snuck out of the backfield after the snap and caught a pass from Martin in the middle of the field for a gain of 24 yards and a first down.

The pass was the first attempt of Martin’s career, and the catch was just the third of the season for Collins, who did have two grabs for three yards and a touchdown in a Week 2 loss to Carolina. The bit of trickery also seemed to inspire Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who attempted a fake punt of his own early in the second quarter.

On that play, Miami faced a 4th-and-1 at midfield, and appeared to pick up the first down after a direct snap to up-back Jordan Kovacs was carried for a gain of a couple yards. But the Dolphins had two men moving when the ball was snapped, so the play didn’t stand. Facing a 4th-and-6, Miami elected to have Brandon Fields punt the ball away for real.

Not to be outdone, Detroit dialed up yet another fake punt on its ensuing drive. Facing a 4th-and-5 from the Miami 41, the Lions brought out the punting unit rather than have Matt Prater attempt what would have been a 58-yard field goal.

Before the kick, Miami defensive back Lowell Rose came in tight, apparently lining up in an attempt to block the punt. The move left Lions gunner Isa Abdul-Quddus — a safety with zero career catches — uncovered, so in a bit of what appeared to be improvisation, Martin took the snap and tossed the ball over to Abdul-Quddus.

This time, however, the trickery was not so successful. The Dolphins had the play read perfectly after offering up the bait, Walt Aikens broke toward Abdul-Quddus as soon as the ball was snapped and then tackled Abdul-Quddus two yards short of the first down.

Still, Martin went into the locker room at halftime with a higher quarterback rating than Matt Stafford, and with two completions for 27 yards he currently leads all punters in both categories this season.