Good football players possess the ability to learn from their mistakes. In addition to that, being able to recognize something from one play during a game and recognize the same thing later on in a game is a characteristic that very few players possess and exhibit on a consistent basis.
During the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-27 win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns, cornerback William Gay made a huge play on third down during the Browns final offensive possession that several can point to as one of the reasons the home team escaped with the victory.
On the play in question, Gay blew up a screen pass to Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins that resulted in a five yard loss.
You can see an animated gif of the play below. Notice how Gay starts breaking toward the line of scrimmage right after the tight end motions to his side and sets himself. Those extra yards allowed him to beat the kick out block attempt by the tight end and tackle Hawkins for a loss.
So Gay knew this was coming, right?
Of course he did and admitted it after the game.
“I knew it was a screen play; they ran it in the second quarter, to Hawkins,” Gay said, according to Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I just remembered the formation and the motion, when they motioned the tight end [toward the right flat], so I just put that in my memory bank and then I saw it again.
“You show me somethin’ twice, I’m shootin’.”
Below is an animated gif of the second quarter play that Gay referenced. The first time the Browns ran it involved play-action to the running back who was lined up as a sidecar on the strong side of the formation.
Gay, who was a good six yards off of the line of scrimmage on that play, was easily beat to the point of attack by the tight end. At least he did manage to keep Hawkins inside.
The Browns tried to disguise the play the second time they ran it by lining up the running back as a sidecar on the weak side of the formation. There was also no play-action involved before Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer delivered the pass to Hawkins. You have to wonder if he saw Gay closing pre-snap and decided to abandon play-action in an effort to get the ball out quicker.
Had Gay not registered the tackle for a loss, it’s unlikely that Hawkins would have converted the yardage needed for a first down, but his play kept the Browns backed up in their own end and the ensuing punt allowed the Steelers offense to start the game-winning drive near mid-field. Based on how things played out, another six or seven yards could have made a big difference.