Six-hundred and twenty-three days had passed since Cedric Cobbs had last played in an NFL regular-season game when he walked back into the north end zone to field Lawrence Tynes’ game-opening kickoff Sunday. But an even more vast stretch of time had passed since Cobbs had lined up for a kickoff return in a game that mattered.
“Probably my junior year (at Arkansas) — maybe,” Cobbs replied when asked when he’d last run back a kickoff in a game prior to Sunday.
He would have to wait until overtime for the chance to make a play — and by the time it came, all he could do was fall on the football, salvaging a play that went awry when he muffed the overtime-opening kickoff late Sunday afternoon. He recovered the ball, but emerged from the collision with a sprained ankle.
“To muff the ball like that and give the other team the opportunity to jump on the football was pretty devastating; it was frightening,” Cobbs said. “At the same time, I was kind of scared and after I muffed it, I just thought that I should get on the ball, and that’s what I did, and that’s when everyone came and pounded on me.”
“Unfortunately, with that wind blowing like it was, it was pretty hard to field,” Head Coach Mike Shanahan said. “I’m just glad he recovered it to give us a chance to gain possession on the 15, 16-yard-line.”
As overtime began, Cobbs had not touched the ball since midway through the third quarter. He hadn’t seen the field on offense as Mike Bell and Tatum Bell alternated possessions for most of the game, although Cobbs said that he thought he would get some carries Sunday.
“Yeah, that’s what the plan was,” Cobbs said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t run the ball like we thought we would; we didn’t have possession of the ball as long as we thought we should and we thought we would have. That kind of played an effect, and, of course, the other two running backs needed to get warmed up and get in a groove, and just left not much of an opportunity to get on the field.”
Then came overtime.
“I was actually pretty cold physically, and mentally, not being in the game and just going in after the game was actually supposed to be over,” Cobbs said.
It was understandable that Cobbs would be cold; the day had presented scant opportunity for him to make plays. Two of Tynes’ three kickoffs in regulation were touchbacks; the other was a squib that Chad Mustard fielded at the Denver 36 just before halftime.
Overtime then brought the play that temporarily brought crutches into Cobbs’ life.
“Obviously we were disappointed because he didn’t field it,” Head Coach Mike Shanahan said. “But he was doing pretty good in practice, and you’ve got to give guys an opportunity, kind of like we did Reuben Droughns a couple of years back. Here’s a big guy, about 230 pounds, that can break tackles, so we want to give him a chance.”
Now, with Cobbs nursing a sprained ankle and moving around on crutches for the moment, that opportunity could land in Quincy Morgan’s lap, as Shanahan said he’ll give the newest Bronco some opportunities in this week’s practices. Morgan ranked eighth in the NFL in kickoff-return average last year.
“He has been productive on kickoff returns and he’s also been productive at the receiver position,” Shanahan said, “so we’ll evaluate that this week and kind of go from there.”
Cobbs, meanwhile, simply wants to recover from his sprained ankle in time to play against his former team Sunday.
“I really want to play against them,” Cobbs said. “Really bad.”
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