Physics and Psychology Aid Callahan’s Punt Return TD!

The Chicago Bears finished a rather dreadful season with a loss to the Minnesota Vikings today, 23-10.  The Bears did have a fun play that I got to analyze for TuneIn‘s Ho Huddle.  With just over six minutes left in the first half, the Vikings faced a 4th and 9 at their own 16-yard line.  Vikings’ punter Ryan Quigley (#4) punted the ball from Minnesota’s 7-yard line (click on image below for a larger view).

You can see in the above screen capture that Quigley was right on the 7-yard line when the ball left his right shoe.  The ball was punted at almost 60 mph and over 60 degrees to the horizontal.  For an incredibly short amount of time, the force between shoe and ball on a good punt can be over 1000 pounds.  The punted ball traveled 53 yards and had a hang time of 4.24 seconds.

The problem for the Vikings was that the Bears’ Tarik Cohen (#29) played the perfect decoy.  He was on the right side of the field and acted as if he was going to catch Quigley’s punt.  But Bryce Callahan (#37) was on the left side of the field and caught the punt while sliding on his own 40-yard line (click on image below for a larger view).

Look at Cohen with his arms out like he’s about to catch the punt!  The Vikings’ Jayron Kearse (#27) is running full speed at Cohen while Callahan has just caught the punt.  The screen capture below shows when Callahan got up after his slide (click on image for a larger view).

You can see the purple blurs heading toward Cohen!  I couldn’t tell from the video I watched, but Quigley should have been yelling at his teammates, telling them where his punt was headed.  Even though the Vikings were at home, the noise level could have been in the 70 dB – 100 dB range, which corresponds to the sound a vacuum cleaner makes all the way up to what a busy subway sounds like.  Quigley’s teammates down the field probably wouldn’t have heard him if he was yelling.

Callahan could get up after his slide and run because the NFL doesn’t use college football rules.  The screen capture below shows that Callahan had many blockers in front of him (click on image for a larger view).

The Vikings are headed to the right while Callahan is preparing to run down the left side of the field.  Cohen did such a good job selling the fake that Kearse nearly ran into Cohen and had to veer off to Cohen’s left upon realizing that Cohen didn’t have the ball.  Check out the screen capture below, which shows five Vikings near Cohen, all realizing too late that they ran after the wrong player (click on image for a larger view).

Meanwhile, Callahan was hitting a top speed of 19 mph in Vikings’ territory (click on image below for a larger view).

Callahan crossed the goal line at about 16 mph, having slowed a little to celebrate (click on image below for a larger view).

A lot of great physics for sure, but psychology had the Vikings off course and chasing the wrong Bear!  The Bears finished 5-11 this year, but left me with a fun play to analyze before bringing their season to a close.

Chuck Nice of Playing with Science joined me on today’s segment.  As he always does, Chuck set up the play really well before tossing it over to me for the nerdy stuff.  Click here for our segment.  The NFL regular season finished up today, but like the 13-3 Vikings, we football fans are anxious for the playoffs to begin!

I am Professor of Physics at Lynchburg College and author of Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports.

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