Matt Ammendola surprises with impressive punting in New York Jets debut
According to MaxPreps.com, it had been 2,251 days since Matt Ammendola kicked for long-distance rather than points. That evening, a temperate October in Pennsylvania, Ammendola was a midfielder in North Penn High School’s soccer tilt against Dock Mennonite.
Ammendola likely had no idea or intention of breaking that streak when his New York Jets ventured to Charlotte to battle the Carolina Panthers in their 2021 season opener on Sunday. The football gods cast his best-laid plans aside when Gang Green’s regular punter, Braden Mann, was lost to a knee ailment.
Adding insult to literal injury, the Jets were forced to re-kick when Mann got hurt on an incident that led to a New York penalty.
A team with a plethora of concerns entering the 2021 season was granted a rare silver lining through Ammendola’s leg, however. His first punt of the afternoon, coming after a Jets possession that lost 13 yards, went 50 yards and set the Panthers up at midfield despite the green possession ending inside its own 10.
Somehow, Ammendola managed to top it on his next opportunity: forced into his own re-kick after another Jets penalty erased a 46-yard strike, Ammendola launched a 65-yard punt that placed Carolina at its own 15, flipping the field as the New York offense sputtered in the early going.
Matt Amendola with a 68-yard punt
— Bet The Pigskin (@betthepigskin) September 12, 2021
That kick was the longest amongst Sunday punters and is tied for the most well-traveled boot in this very young season with Thursday participant Bradley Pinion in Tampa Bay.
Ammendola’s day ended with a 48.5 average on six punts, two of which situated Carolina inside its own 20. That average was good for sixth amongst Sunday punters.
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After the game, Ammendola confirmed that he never launched a punt in a game before, but he did say that he had been working on his punting in the offseason while training in California.
Matt Ammendola had never punted in a game before yesterday's outing:
"First NFL game, to go out there and punt was definitely a changeup for sure" pic.twitter.com/pTpovsC9WS
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) September 13, 2021
Head coach Robert Saleh praised Ammendola’s ability to come through in an uncomfortable situation and expressed regret that the team was unable to allow Ammendola to fulfill his newfound regular duties at kicker: the Jets attempted no field goals on Sunday and tried to earn two points after each of their Sunday touchdowns.
“(It was a) terrific job by him,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I thought he punted the heck out of it for not really practicing it. … He just stepped right in and did a really good job. Hats off to him. I wish we could have gotten him a field goal somewhere, but I thought he did a great job.”
The improvisation from Ammendola puts him amongst the NFL’s leaders in this infantile season: his 48.5 average ranks eighth amongst punters with at least three opportunities in Week 1 action and he was one of 14 men to place at least two punts inside the opponent’s 20.
Ammendola is the latest leg to audition for the Jets’ long-term kicking role, a position that has seen an abnormal amount of turnover since Pro Bowler Jason Myers absconded to Seattle following a record-breaking 2018 season. Sunday marked his first regular-season NFL action after winning the job from fellow first-year player Chris Naggar and incumbent veteran kicker Sam Ficken.
Mann was officially diagnosed with a knee sprain following Sunday’s 19-14 loss to the Panthers and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. The second-year sixth-round pick from 2020’s draft made several trips in and out of the medical tent and was later seen adorned in a heavy knee brace on the sidelines.
If the Jets opt to go with a veteran replacement for Mann, notable free agents include ex-Jets Lac Edwards and former Pro Bowler Thomas Morstead.
The Jets return to action next Sunday afternoon in their home opener against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags