I never thought I would say this, but Gunner Olszewski had a great game. He’s been the recipient of much criticism this season, especially from me. From his decision to never take the touchback to an inability to find open lanes on returns, it seemed like he could only hurt, and not help, the Patriots. If he did find open space, snails, turtles, and even glaciers moved faster than he could. So imagine the surprise of Patriots Nation when he scored not one, but two touchdowns on Sunday. Everything he did made the Patriots better, and “Gunnah” is one of the biggest reasons for the Patriots dominant victory on Sunday. And his standout performance against the Chargers earns him the week 13 Game Ball.
For the first 12 weeks of the season, Olszewski was a liability. Every time he was back to return a kick or punt, it was almost a guarantee that the Patriots starting field position would be inside their own 20-yard line. Lack of speed and poor positional awareness meant that defenders tracked him down easily. Fans questioned how he could still be on the team after all the mistakes he continued to make. Over the past two weeks, he became a critical asset.
But has Gunner really turned a corner? Is this improvment real, or did he just have a great game against an inferior team? We’ve all seen it. That team or player who looks great against weaker opponents but can’t handle legitimate competiton. Just one day prior, the BYU Cougars, who looked great on paper, lost to Coastal Carolina. But the BYU Cougars looked more like Paper Tigers when they weren’t playing glorified Junior College teams.While that is possible with Gunner, it seems more probable than not that the game is tarting to click for him. The typical sub-glacial speed has kicked into overdrive. He’s reading the field and making smarter decisions. And the grit and determination that sometimes leads to his poor play are as strong as ever.
Those characteristics were on full display during a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown. One week after having a similar return called back on a bogus, made-up penalty, Gunner found paydirt. Running behind incredible blocks by Adrian Phillips, Donte Moncreif, and Matthew Slater, he turned on the jets. By my calculations, he reached a top speed of 132 miles per hour. After breaking 2 tackles, he tightroped along the sideline to stay inbounds and finally reached the endzone.
He almost had a repeat of that return in the third quarter. After catching a punt at the Patriots 22-yard line and using some shake and bake to get into open field and ran it back to the Chargers 17-yard line. The Patriots settled for a field goal which put them up 38-0. Gunner capped off an epic day with a 38 yard touchdown catch from Jarrett Stidham on an incredible catch and run. Like before, the blazing speed was on display as he outpaced multiple defenders to reach the goal line. With the two touchdowns and putting the Patriots in field goal range to start a drive, he was directly responsible for 17 of the Patriots 45 points
What Patriots Nation has seen from Gunner Olszewski has boosted both morale and hope for this season. As he continues to improve, Patriots fans can only expect to see more performances like this. And I couldn’t be more excited for it.
To quote Mike D’Abate quoting Spaceballs, “Who made that man a gunner?”
–Travis Baltes is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @TravisBaltes