OCT. 10 SAN DIEGO AT OAKLAND
We had guys coming off the edge, and they didn't account for me. I'm what we call the creeper in that scheme. When the defender stayed on the guy on the inside, there was nobody to pick me up and I shot the gap. Special teams are just as important as offense and defense. They can win a game, they can lose a game. That's been shown this year more than any other.
—ROCK CARTWRIGHT, Oakland running back, who blocked the Mike Scifres punt out of the end zone, giving the Raiders a 2--0 lead in their 35--27 Week 5 win.
On punt teams each lineman matches up with a rusher. This year that job has been made slightly more difficult by the existence of what the Raiders call the creeper, the rusher who's been displaced by the rule about lining up over the center. Regardless of the creeper's location, each punt-team lineman has to count from his left to pick up his man. The left wing blocks the outside rusher, the left tackle the second in line, the left guard the third in line, and so on. When San Diego played Oakland, the Chargers' left guard on the punt team was linebacker Antwan Applewhite. Cartwright was the third man from the left—Applewhite's guy. Cartwright got a late jump off the snap; Applewhite said he didn't see him and double-teamed the man to his right. Cartwright blocked the punt out of the end zone. Safety.
"If you're on a punt team and you can't count to three, you can't play there," said Crosby. So after the play, on the sideline, Crosby told Applewhite he was going to replace him; Crosby needed to be able to rely on the guard to block the third man in.
"Coach," Applewhite said to him, "please don't do that to me. I'll never do it again."
Crosby relented. As Applewhite said later, "I made a bad decision on the play. They wanted to take me out, but I wanted to show them I could do it."
Three minutes later the Chargers lined up for another punt. Out trotted Applewhite to play guard. Across from him, to his left, was a new third man, tight end Brandon Myers. Incredibly—Crosby cannot believe it to this day—Applewhite again helped on a man already accounted for, leaving his gap unplugged. Here came Myers. Boom! Another block, this time for a touchdown.
"Those mistakes were uncharacteristic of me," said Applewhite.
"Totally unexplainable," said Crosby. "You've just got to block number three ... one, two, three."