Balzer: Austin's performance made history

(KSDK Sports) -- Finally.

That's the best way to describe Tavon Austin's breakout game in Indianapolis Sunday in a 38-8 Rams victory.

We had seen the possibilities during the Rams' first nine games. But as Roseane Roseannadanna used to say, "There's always something."

There were penalties that cost him a myriad of punt-return yards, including a touchdown. There was the tripping penalty on tackle Jake Long that cost him a long touchdown pass from quarterback Sam Bradford.

Mostly there was frustration. Not Sunday. Not in Indianapolis.

Austin was targeted just three times in the passing game, but two were completions of 81 and 57 yards for touchdowns. He had four punt returns, and the one he probably never should have fielded turned into a 98-yard touchdown. Most important, there were no penalty flags.

The milestones were plentiful for Austin:

*His 314 all-purpose yards (145 on punt returns, 138 on receptions, 27 on a kickoff return, and four on a run) was the second-most in franchise history.

*The 98-yard punt return was the third-longest in NFL history and second-best in Rams history.

*He became the third rookie, joining Randy Moss and Gale Sayers, to have three touchdowns in a game of 50 yards or more.

*He is the second player in history (Carolina's Steve Smith is the other) to have 140 or more yards from scrimmage and in punt

*He is the first player in NFL history to score on a punt return of at least 95 yards and a reception of at least 55 yards in the same game.

And, it all happened in a stretch of 11:33, starting with 10:28 to play in the second quarter and ending after 1:05 of the third quarter.

The punt return was a strange play when Austin was drifting toward the ball near the sideline and was waving for other players to stay away from it. It bounced hard toward the goal line and a Colts defender was behind Austin.

He suddenly snatched it at the 2-yard line and took off down the right sideline.

Said coach Jeff Fisher, "What can you say about No. 11. He got the football in his hands and I found myself saying, 'Get away, get away, get away,' ... then I went from 'Get away, get away, get away,' to 'Go, go, go.'"

Austin, who has had some questionable decisions in recent games letting the ball bounce on punt returns, said what he did "was a last-minute decision. I should have caught the ball and had good field position on the 10-yard line. I let it bounce, so I just had to make a split decision, went with my instincts, and I just made a play."

His two receiving scores were on a long pass down the left sideline (57 yards) and a crossing pattern where he got in space and no one could catch him (81 yards). The previous week against Tennessee, quarterback Kellen Clemens overthrew Austin by several yards on a straight-line pass down the right sideline that might have been an 85-yard touchdown.

This time, he lofted a high pass that Austin ran under for the catch and score.

Said Clemens, "In going back to last week, the play that I missed to Tavon, it was flat. When a guy has the speed that Tavon
has, if you put it high and far, nine times out of 10, he can run under it. And they played a coverage where I could put more air on it because I wasn't worried about a safety getting involved."

Clemens also credited offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for the play call on the third-and-7 play.

"You've got Tavon Austin on one side and you've got Chris Givens on the other, so you're throwing to great speed on either side," Clemens said. "Based on the coverage that they played, Tavon was the best option. They put a safety over the top of Givens and Tavon, with his speed, just ran past him.

"With a guy like Tavon, you just throw as far as you can. There's really not a lot of thinking. On that particular play, you've got to take your hat off really to Schotty as well because on third down ... a lot of teams are going to defend the sticks. They know that you're just (thinking), 'Hey, let's get a first down conversion, let's get out of here.' So it takes (guts) to call a shot in that down and distance. Credit Brian for dialing it up."

Said defensive end Chris Long of Austin's day, "He's awesome. He's been awesome all year really. Sometimes guys make plays, and plays get called back negated due to penalties. A guy is doing all the right things, but he's just not catching any breaks. That's football, it's a team game. Today it was great to see those things come to fruition. All the hard work he's done has really paid off, and that's great for him."



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