On a Super Bowl team loaded with marquee players, punter Jon Ryan is one of Seattle’s best — and least appreciated — weapons.
Years ago, when he coached the then-expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, John McKay told a story about a punter (McKay didn’t mention his name) who came to him and informed McKay that he was quitting pro football because he had “lost his desire.” McKay couldn’t believe his ears.
“How,” wondered McKay, “do you lose your desire to punt and eat steaks?”
No one pays punters and kickers much heed until they deliver an ill-timed shank or one of those inexplicable Garo Yepremian-style screw-ups that cost a ball game. But Jon Ryan of the Seahawks is worth the heed, a fact underscored Thursday when he was named the NFC’s Special Teams Player of the Month for September.
He deserved it. But before elaborating, Ryan is only the second player in Seahawks history to win this particular monthly award, and the first since Nate Burleson in November 2006, mostly because of a 90-yard punt return TD that sparked a 24-22 win over the Rams.
Ryan won largely because of his performance Sept. 21 against the Denver Broncos, a 26-20 Seahawks victory in which Ryan was as impactful as any player, which is saying something considering the 80-yard, game-winning drive orchestrated by Russell Wilson in overtime.
Ryan punted six times for 301 yards, a 50.2-yard average and 47.7-yard net, the longest of which traveled 66 yards. The distance certainly distinguished him, but not as much as his placements. Five landed inside the Denver 20-yard line, forcing the Broncos to start drives ranging from the seven to 19-yard line.
Ironically, the only one that didn’t force the Broncos to start inside their 20 came on his 66-yarder, when he knocked it back to the Denver 14. Isaiah Burse returned it to the 29. Without Burse’s return, Ryan would have gone 6-for-6 on kicks inside the 20, which would have matched the franchise record done six times, three by Ryan.
Making Peyton Manning start drives five times inside the 20, and twice inside the 10, wasn’t Ryan’s only notable contribution. In the fourth quarter, after Denver recorded a safety, slicing Seattle’s lead to 17-5, Ryan’s free kick sailed an astonishing 79 yards to the Denver one-yard line. Ryan’s six punts vs. Denver:
|Qtr./Time||Yard Line||Punt||Ret.||Yard Line||Next Denver Drive|
|1st / 13:42||Sea 25||61 yards||FC||Den 14||1 play, ended with fumble|
|1st / 1:27||Sea 20||66 yards||15||Den 29||4 plays, ended with punt|
|2nd / 9:39||Den 41||34 yards||FC||Den 7||9 plays, ended with punt|
|3rd / 10:16||50||43 yards||Dwn.||Den 7||6 plays, ended with punt|
|3rd / 6:40||Sea 25||58 yards||0||Den 17||4 plays, ended with punt|
|4th / 6:15||Sea 42||39 yards||FC||Den 19||9 plays, ended with INT|
Manning and the Broncos did not score a point after Ryan pinned them inside their 20.
“That was the best game I’ve ever seen Jon have,” placekicker Steven Hauschka said.
“I thought that Jon Ryan just had an incredible influence in this game,” Carroll said. “He was banging the ball all day. If there was anybody who was MVP, it might have been Jon Ryan with his effort because he probably had the best day of his career.”
Of his 12 punts through three games, Ryan has seven inside the 20, 58.3 percent. That ranks third in the NFL behind Kevin Huber of Cincinnati and Dustin Colquitt of Kansas City, as the following shows:
|Punter||Team||No.||Yards||LG||Avg.||Net||In 20||% In 20|
As important as digging his own team out of holes, Ryan boots opponents deep into them. His combination of length – four have exceeded 60 yards – and hang time, 5.43 seconds (fourth best in the NFL), make returns difficult (only a quarter of Ryan’s punts are returned).
Creating longer fields for opposing offenses provides Seattle’s defense more opportunities to make plays. Although hardly a headliner on a team with national celebrities such as Wilson, Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch, Ryan’s skill is impressive weapon, even if his work often is taken for granted.
ADD, RYAN: Signed as a free agent Sept. 8, 2008 after spending his first two seasons in Green Bay, Ryan, is the second-longest tenured Seahawk, trailing only DT Brandon Mebane. Ryan has appeared in 130 regular-season games for the Seahawks. Along with Rick Tuten (1991-97) and Jeff Feagles (1998-02), he ranks among the top three in numerous club punting categories, most notably: 35.9 percent of his punts have landed inside the 20 (Feagles 34.5 percent, Tuten 26.5). His 77-yard punt at San Francisco Sept. 11, 2011 is the longest in franchise history.