Donte Moncrief Kickoff Return Sparks Patriots Win

Donte Moncrief kickoff return

Billie Weiss/Getty Images Donte Moncrief of the New England Patriots returns a kickoff against the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium on November 29, 2020.

It was more than a little surprising when the New England Patriots held a tryout for former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Donte Moncrief at the end of October. It was even more surprising when New England signed him to its practice squad a few days later. After all, Moncrief did nothing for the winless New York Jets this season before Adam Gase released him in mid-October. But he made a big play on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals (6-5), one that led to New England’s first score of the game—a seven-play, 41-yard touchdown drive that cut Arizona’s lead to 10-7.

Here’s what happened: After Arizona converted a field goal to extend its lead to 10-0, the veteran wide receiver took the subsequent kickoff and returned it 53 yards, eluding several would-be tacklers along the way.

The play changed the momentum of the game, and the Patriots (5-6) ultimately went on to win by a score of 20-17 after Pats placekicker Nick Folk made a 50-yard walk-off field goal.

Donte Moncrief’s Short History with the Patriots

Sunday’s game was Moncrief’s second appearance in a Patriots uniform. A week earlier he was targeted twice by Pats QB Cam Newton, and he made one catch for 15 yards. That’s almost as much yardage as he produced during his time in Pittsburgh, when he had just four catches for 18 yards between September and November 2019.

Even more notable is the fact that his 53-yard return was just the fourth kickoff return of his seven-year NFL career, including one earlier in the same game. He returned one kickoff during the season he spent in Jacksonville (that one went for all of seven yards), and another for the Indianapolis Colts in 2015, in which he advanced the ball just five yards.

It remains to be seen whether Moncrief will get a chance to do more for the Pats this season, as he has already been returned to New England’s practice squad. If Bill Belichick wants to try to utilize Moncrief further, the Pats will have to sign him to their active roster as he is out of practice squad elevations.

Donte Moncrief’s NFL Career

Moncrief came into the NFL in 2014 as a third-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts. During four seasons in Indy he appeared in 53 games, catching 152 passes for 1,875 yards and 18 touchdowns. He had another successful season in 2018 (on a one-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars), catching 48 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns.

Then he signed a two-year, $9 million contract with the Steelers in March 2019. But he dropped four passes in Pittsburgh’s season-opening loss to the New England Patriots that year and was responsible for Mason Rudolph’s first career interception in a week two loss to Seattle. The Steelers went on to waive him in November of last year, a move that was designed to preserve an expected compensatory third-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft. (The Steelers ultimately used that pick to draft outside linebacker Alex Highsmith.)

Moncrief remains Pittsburgh’s second-biggest ‘dead money’ salary cap liability this season, counting for $1.75 million.

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