DETROIT -- Andre Roberts saw the ball in the air and knew what the return call was: Middle. That meant one thing. If he chose to take the return, one of the first things he would do was try to cut up the field.
It didn't quite go like that for the Detroit Lions punt returner Sunday afternoon during his 55-yard touchdown against Jacksonville, but it was close. And at the start, Roberts made it happen all by himself.
Jacksonville punter Brad Nortman stood in the middle of his own end zone after another failed Jaguars drive and the Lions decided early on not to pressure the punt. After initially lining players up to get some pressure, two Detroit players pulled off to the side to give extra blockers to the Jaguars gunners.
Then Nortman kicked the ball and it went slightly to the left. Roberts caught it at his own 45-yard line and started to run to the right. Then, he began to make things happen.
"First thing is to try and get vertical and then figure it out from there," Roberts said. "Our guys are just trying to take their guys where they want to go and I just try to cut off butts so if they are leveraged on the right side, I just want to cut it off them and if they are on the left, cut it off."
More on the cutting off butts later, because the first part of this return was all Roberts. He briefly appeared to pause around the center of the field before cutting back left. This allowed two Jacksonville players with momentum -- Myles Jack and Carson Tinker -- to fly by him and dive. They missed him and were essentially out of the play.
The third player giving middle pursuit, Denard Robinson, stayed on his feet but had to change direction after Roberts, so Roberts had the former Michigan quarterback beat. Roberts also had a mini wall to give him a lane as Rafael Bush and Johnthan Banks had perfect blocks to let Roberts get vertical.
Then he started to run, first up the middle and the started to cut toward the right sideline. He had two blockers setting up on the right side of the field, first Johnson Bademosi and then Don Carey. Carey ended up getting the crucial block to free up the touchdown at the 17-yard line, making contact with Arrelious Benn to take him out of the play.
"I quickly peeked," Carey said. "You can kind of tell by the mannerism of the gunner where the returner is. When I saw he was not really trying to go get him but retreating, I kind of figured the ball was coming my way.
"At that point, I started peeking in order to get outside and get to the sideline as best I could."
That's what Roberts looks for with the return and with his blockers. In this case, he's looking to see where Carey has leverage on his blocker. So if it looked for a split-second like Roberts stutter-stepped, that was his final read of the leverage.
This is where "cut off butts" becomes important, because to Roberts, cutting off butts tells him which way he wants to run off the block. In this case, it was to the right, so he ran and cut the angle close to Carey's right butt cheek, turned the corner and ran the rest of the way to the end zone for a touchdown.
"I felt those guys," Roberts said. "And as a punt returner you have to make one or two guys miss, not everything is going to be perfect and we all understand that."
Yet on his return Sunday, almost everything set up perfectly, leading to his second punt return score of the year.