PHILADELPHIA – Josh Huff ran right past it.
The feeling that his rookie season was slipping away from him in disappointment? The mistakes that had led to intercepted passes and an opponent’s punt return for touchdown? Huff ran right past them, along with all 11 Tennessee Titans trying to cover the opening kickoff Sunday.
“It definitely boosts confidence,” Huff said after the Eagles’ 43-24 victory over the Titans. “Just to know that I can make those plays on this level and that my teammates have faith in me to continue to make those plays. Even if I mess up, those guys still have faith in me.”
Huff decided to take the ball out of the end zone instead of kneeling down 7 yards deep for a touchback. He broke through the first wave of Titans at about the 10-yard line, cut to his right and was on his way.
The third-round wide receiver used to be a running back, and that served him well on his way to the end zone. Huff was able to stiff-arm a pair of Titans, giving himself room to run.
“Going back to little league and high school and college, and me being a former running back, that’s always in my repertoire,” Huff said. “Just being able to use that extra hand to get a defender off. I was able to do that.”
Last Sunday in Green Bay, Huff was playing gunner on the Eagles’ punt team. He slowed down in front of Packers return man Micah Hyde. Hyde blew past him on the way to a 75-yard touchdown return. That play prompted Huff to talk about how poorly he felt his rookie season was going. The former Oregon star was used to being a playmaker, and he wasn’t feeling much like one in the NFL so far.
“Josh has just got to stop beating himself up,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “I think maybe the good part about him is he has high expectations for himself, but I know we’re not as down on him as I think sometimes he expresses that he is.”
Huff’s 107-yard return was the longest play in Eagles history. It broke the record of 105 yards for a kickoff return set by Timmy Brown in 1961. It was also the first touchdown return of an opening kickoff for the Eagles since 2001.
“We talk about starting fast,” Kelly said, “but I don’t think you can get a faster start than that. Both teams are excited; they’re ready to go. They’ve got a game plan in: 'Let’s execute it, let’s go play.’ And then you take the opening kickoff. I think that’s got to take a little wind out of your sails if you’re the opponent.”
And it added some wind to the Eagles’ sails.
“Special teams putting points up before we even touch the field – it’s going to be a good day,” LeSean McCoy said.
It was Huff’s only kick return of the game. The Eagles use Chris Polk on certain calls and Huff on others. From then on, Polk got the call. Huff was OK with that. He’d already made his point.