ATLANTA — Ben Kotwica says he's never seen an onside kick such as the one that beat the Atlanta Falcons last week.
The kick helped leave the Falcons (0-2) already facing pressure as they prepare to play the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
Kotwica, Atlanta's special teams coach, said Thursday the fateful kick was “a painful lesson.”
Dallas kicker Greg Zuerlein placed the ball flat on the ground — with no tee — for the unusual onside kick that set up his game-winning 46-yard field goal in the Cowboys' 40-39 win.
Several Falcons players, including receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, safety Sharrod Neasman and tight end Hayden Hurst, watched as if mesmerized by the spinning kick's unusual path. Cowboys cornerback C.J. Goodwin made the recovery just as the ball reached the required 10 yards.
It appeared the Falcons reacted as if they didn’t know they could recover the ball before it traveled 10 yards.
Kotwica said Thursday his players knew the rule but also understood the dangers of trying to recover a kick that did not appear certain to travel at least 10 yards.
“Our players knew they could go into the restraining area and recover the ball,” Kotwica said. “But they also knew that if they went into the restraining area to recover the spinning football, there’s a risk if they didn’t recover it cleanly, that gives the kicking team the opportunity to recover the ball because then it becomes a live ball.”
Kotwica said from his sideline view, “initially I didn’t think it was going to go 10 yards.”
Despite the uncertainty about the kick's path, the bottom line was the Falcons couldn't afford to be spectators on the field with the game on the line.
“We should have aggressively gotten on the football,” said Kotwica, who is in his second season in Atlanta following five seasons in Washington.
“I’m responsible for it. I’m responsible for everything the unit does and fails to do. It’s something we’ve looked at. We’ve made the corrections and talked to the players and we’ll do a better job.”
The loss left the Falcons playing from behind in the NFC South in a crucial season for coach Dan Quinn.
“You learn from it and you grow,” Quinn said Wednesday. "I certainly anticipate that with this team. They’re very connected. It’s a tight group. Hurting? Yes. Mad also, but we also recognize all of the attention and focus has to be on Chicago and our preparation for that.”
The onside kick was a difficult decisive play for the Falcons to move past. Every question to Kotwica in his weekly interview session was about the play.
Kotwica compared the roll of the onside kick to a putt at the U.S. Open.
“I can’t say that I’ve seen that specific one where the ball goes parallel to the restraining line on the 39-, 40-yard line and then like a putt at Winged Foot begins going down the hill to the right,” Kotwica said. “I can’t say that I’ve seen that.”
Even in a copycat league, Kotwica isn't sure other kickers will be able to duplicate Zuerlein's effort.
“That is as good a kick as I’ve seen,” he said. “There’s one thing about putting that in the plan. I would suggest there’s another thing about being able to execute that kick on a repeated basis.”