Patrick Peterson's 99-yard punt return for a touchdown Sunday stands as the second-longest in NFL history. It should stand as the longest, but back in 1994, officials erred in allowing Robert Bailey's 103-yard return for the Los Angeles Rams against New Orleans. Everyone but Bailey appeared to think Tommy Barnhardt's punt had gone out of the end zone for a touchback. So, while the Rams' offensive players and Saints' defensive players walked onto the field, Bailey returned the ball uncontested. League officials later admitted their error, noting that offsetting penalties should have returned the ball to where the infractions occurred, right around the Rams' 15-yard line. There was nothing cheap about Peterson's 99-yarder to beat the St. Louis Rams in overtime. A look back at how it came together:
The ball left punter Donnie Jones' foot at the St. Louis 35-yard line.
Peterson positioned himself at the Arizona 10, just outside his left hashmark. Peterson tracked the ball initially, then sneaked a peak at the coverage teams. The Fox hangtime clock read 2.7 seconds at this point. In a split second, Peterson tilted his head upward again to track the ball. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "To do that, with those guys screaming down the field, is very difficult. That's where he is really special."
Peterson moved backward and to his left, settling at about the 3-yard line. That is where he appeared to field the ball. The hangtime clock read 4.3 seconds.
Peterson had only his right foot on the ground as he fielded the ball. Rams running back Quinn Porter was at the 9-yard line along the yard-line numbers to Peterson's left. Rams fullback Brit Miller was on the same side of the field between the yard-line numbers and the hash at the 15. Dominique Curry, the Rams' best special-teams coverage player, was between the hashes at the 14. Rams linebacker Chris Chamberlain was between the hashes at about the 22, with Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson running with him step for step nearer the middle of the field, allowing Johnson to shield Chamberlain from Peterson initially.
Cardinals cornerback Richard Marshall made the key block, tossing Curry to the ground back near where Peterson fielded the ball. When Curry rolled over and looked up, Peterson was already at the 6-yard line outside the hash on the other side of the field, where Porter and Miller had chased him.
Rams defensive lineman C.J. Ah You had run wide enough to force Peterson back to the middle beginning from about the Arizona 3 just outside the Cardinals' right hash. Ah You overran Peterson.
Rams safety James Butler was at the 15-yard line to Peterson's right. He came off his block, but missed Peterson at the 17.
Chamberlain caught up to Peterson at the 30 just as Peterson was weaving outside the yard-line numbers to his right. Chamberlain dove, but Peterson wasn't there. Chamberlain collided with teammate Eugene Sims, who was also making a diving attempt at a tackle.
Jones, the punter, stood at the 35 obstructing Peterson's path. Peterson was still facing forward at his own 29. With Sims reaching for Peterson's ankles and rolling to propel himself along, Peterson rotated clockwise. His back was to the middle of the field at the 31. He was moving backward when he reached the 34. That is where Jones passed by, flailing like a matador. Peterson was facing the middle of the field as he crossed the 37, giving him a clear view of an onrushing Jake McQuaide, the Rams' snapper. McQuaide was already nearing the 40 outside the hash and had the angle. Peterson continued rotating and was facing forward again by the time he reached the 39. The race was on.
McQuaide pulled even with Peterson at the St. Louis 46 and for a moment seemed to be within striking distance. If they had been cars on a two-lane highway, McQuaide would have been the guy in the four-door sedan. Peterson, driving the Ferrari, pulled away quickly and was gone. O'Brien Schofield made sure of it, cutting between McQuaide and Peterson at the St. Louis 30.
The game was over. Peterson had scored a touchdown on a punt return for the third time in his first eight NFL games, an NFL record. Only the Denver Broncos' Rick Upchurch has had more touchdowns on punt returns in the first eight games of any NFL season. He had four in 1976.