San Francisco's Ted Ginn Jr. scores on a kickoff return against the… (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images )
When the NFL decided to move up kickoffs five yards to promote touchbacks, a decision intended to make the game safer, many worried that would strip football of one of its most exciting plays.
So much for that theory.
There were eight returns for touchdowns in Week 1 -- three on kickoffs and five on punts -- the most in one week in league history. All three scoring kick returns were for more than 100 yards, marking the first time since 1958 there have been at least three that long in a single week.
Instead of taking a knee five yards deep in the end zone, many players opted to try their luck with returns. One of those players was Cleveland's Josh Cribbs, the league's career leader with eight kickoff returns for touchdowns. Against Cincinnati, he backed up nearly to the end line -- a full nine yards deep -- before running the ball back 51 yards to the 43.
"Coaches want me to be smart, but make plays at the same time," Cribbs told reporters. "Returners will juggle with that. It's kind of a crapshoot. It's a tough situation to be in, having to decide whether to be smart or try to make a play for your team.
"It's almost 50-50."
Seattle Coach Pete Carroll, whose team was burned for touchdowns on both a kickoff and punt return by San Francisco's Ted Ginn Jr., said the compressed off-season has led to rusty coverage teams.
"I think the tackling has not been as good as you would expect at this time," Carroll said. "Everybody's working on it, and everybody had their preseason games, but for some reason it doesn't look as sharp."
There were also many more touchbacks than in a typical week. Whereas last season only 18% of kickoffs (24 of 137) were not brought out of the end zone on opening weekend, last Sunday there were touchbacks on 49% of kickoffs (79 of 162).
Trends are likely to continue to change as the weather gets cooler and kicks tend not to travel as far.
"It's one of those all-or-nothing situations," NBC's Cris Collinsworth said. "We saw some big returns and touchdowns, but we also saw a lot of returns that came out to the 10-, 11- and 12-yard line. You back your offense up like that, you end up with a real tough situation, and a lot of times it flips the field position. So it is high-stakes poker. Unbelievably, almost, it's added an element of strategy to the game that wasn't there before."