The New England Patriots needed a lift, and they got one from the unlikeliest of sources.
Dan Connolly - a 313-pound (142kg) guard - rumbled 71 yards for what is believed to be the longest kick off return by an offensive lineman in NFL history, sparking the Patriots to a 31-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.
"I've never seen anything happen so slow in my life," Tom Brady said with a laugh. "They won't be kicking to him anymore, I'll tell you that."
The return by Connolly set up Brady's two-yard scoring pass to Aaron Hernandez, cutting Green Bay's lead at half time to 17-14.
"When Dan made that play, you could see the vibe pick up and see the momentum swing in our favour," Jerod Mayo, the Patriots linebacker, said.
The Patriots, who outscored their previous two opponents 81-10, had their hands full even with Aaron Rodgers, the Packers quarterback, missing the game with a concussion, as Matt Flynn, in the first start of his three professional seasons, threw his first three touchdown passes.
The game went down to the final play when Flynn, from the New England 15-yard line, lost the ball when he was sacked by Tully Banta-Cain. Vince Wilfork recovered for the Patriots, securing their sixth consecutive victory.
Green Bay (8-6) suffered a serious blow to their play-off chances, but remained hopeful. "We've got two games left," Flynn said. "We've still got things in front of us."
According to the league's statistics service, the run by Connolly topped the 48-yard touchdown return by Atlanta's Mal Snider in 1969. Complete records have been kept since 1976.
Mason Crosby had kicked the ball short to avoid Brandon Tate, who has two kick off returns for touchdowns this year.
"When you kick the ball, you'd like to kick it to an offensive lineman. That should be a positive," Mike McCarthy, the Packers coach, said. "We did a very poor job there tackling."
Charlie Peprah, the safety, had the first shot at the lumbering lineman.
"I tried to go for the ball thinking he was a big man without ball skills," Peprah said. "I should have just made the tackle."
The Patriots had beaten the New York Jets 45-3 and Bears 36-7 in their previous two games.
"Do I want to blow people out every game? Yeah," Wilfork said, "but it doesn't happen like that every time."
Trailing 27-21, the Patriots scored on Shayne Graham's 38-yard field goal with 11 minutes left in the game and went ahead 31-27 on Brady's second touchdown pass to Hernandez, a 10-yarder with just over seven minutes to go.
Brady broke Don Meredith's record with his seventh consecutive game with at least two scoring passes and no interceptions. He has now gone nine games without an interception.
But he threw for only 163 yards, his third-lowest of the season.
"It certainly wasn't one of our better games," Bill Belichick, the Patriots coach, said. "We've got to play a lot better than this or our season won't last much longer."