As you probably know by now, William Gay set an NFL record for consecutive interceptions returned for a touchdown when he took his fifth back Sunday at Cincinnati. The five interceptions came over a span of 35 games covering parts of three seasons.
While Gay refuses to expound upon plays he makes to the media, several teammates gushed over the veteran’s football intelligence and tireless film study in how that aids in creating turnovers.
“He’s a guy who studies, he’s a guy who always knows what’s coming and he’s a guy who prepares the right way,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said, “so it’s no surprise that when he makes the plays they’re big plays that he makes.”
Veteran Steelers safety Will Allen noted that Gay often doesn’t get the recognition of being a top cornerback (he’s earning the 72nd-highest salary in the NFL this season among cornerbacks; Pro Football Focus rates him 43rd-best at the position). But yet somehow, year in and year out, Gay never misses a game (in his whole career) and he’s always one of the top three cornerbacks on what have been, typically, some very good defenses.
“People don’t rate him high, but if you look at his stats, he don’t give up big plays and he makes his tackles,” Allen said. “And I don’t know one corner in the league that has five straight interceptions for five touchdowns. He’s just a student of the game and he knows when to ‘shoot’ — and he knows when not to.”
Gay’s past five interceptions have illustrated that. In preparation for the highly-anticipated (um, maybe) weekly Film Session feature we do, I went back to breakdown all five of Gay’s record-breaking touchdown returns on interceptions. Space meant it didn’t make the paper or main website (frankly, I decided there were more pressing current issues to highlight anyway), so here it is on the blog. An examination of Gay’s past five interceptions shows the diversified ways in which he outsmarts opponents:
(X) At Cleveland on Nov. 24, 2013, Gay was lined up over the slot wide receiver; quarterback Brandon Weeden saw tight end Jordan Cameron running freely across the middle in front of Lawrence Timmons – but Troy Polamalu took Gay’s receiver and Gay jumped the route in front of Cameron for an easy return.
(x) Last season at Heinz Field against the Colts, Gay was outside and isolated one-on-one with Hakeem Nicks, showing an eight-yard cushion and baiting Andrew Luck into throwing to Nicks on a comeback route before stepping in front of Nicks for an easy catch-and-run for a score.
(x) Three weeks later was probably the “pick 6” of the streak most attributable to a less-than-ideal NFL throw (by Tennessee’s Zach Mettenberger) and not-exactly-crisp route-running (by Justin Hunter).
(x) The touchdown a year and a day ago at Atlanta was the most athletically impressive return – 52 yards after a leaping catch, weaving in and out of defenders. The cerebral part of the play was, in man-to-man, giving Harry Douglas a cushion of more than 11 yards on the outside and appearing to recognize his route – not buying a move to the outside; seemingly anticipating a cut toward the middle of the field before Douglas had even made his move himself.
(x) That brings us to Sunday, when Gay stayed on the right side of the field in a nickel package while in zone, even as the Bengals shifted six players in different directions across the line. This time, instead of giving a cushion, Gay showed press coverage on A.J. Green – but instead allowed Green to release, fooling young Cincinnati quarterback A.J. McCarron into tossing a bubble screen to Mohamed Sanu. Gay caught the ball in front of Sanu in stride, sprinting into the end zone…
…and into the NFL record books.