Tylan Wallace’s teammates have to think hard to remember the punts he’s returned at practice because they’re so rare. Yet, when the former Oklahoma State punt returner stepped up in Devin Duvernay’s absence, it was just like riding a bike, kicker Justin Tucker said — “except then that bike turned into a full-on Ducati.”
Wallace, whose second-quarter offsides penalty proved costly, redeemed himself as he raced down the razor edge of the field and ended the Ravens’ game against the Los Angeles Rams with a walk-off punt return for a touchdown. Baltimore (10-3) won 37-31 Sunday.
It was surreal, like a scene from a movie, Tucker said. He missed the start of the return because he was kicking balls, preparing for a potential game-deciding field goal, but then he noticed Wallace break his first of four tackles.
“And then he was off to the races,” Tucker said. “The sky was gray green, kind of a light rain coming down sideways. The light’s shining through, and you just see Tylan running down the sidelines. ... I lost all control of my body as I just ran down the field to celebrate.”
Tucker was far from the only one caught off guard. Quarterback Lamar Jackson was also on the sidelines preparing to win the game, warming up his arm. But that’s the story of special teams, Tucker said. For the most part, the plays are routine. But if you “fight through the nuance,” you may have the chance to change the direction of a game for your team and yourself.
The Ravens’ special teams have been inconsistent, and Sunday’s game was no different. Wallace was the main culprit. The defense had just gotten its second stop of the game in the second quarter when Wallace was called offsides on a Rams punt. He said he should have checked with the ref to make sure he was lined up properly. The Rams took the penalty and turned it into a touchdown drive.
It was his most glaring mistake, but Wallace said he hadn’t been having a good game overall. He’s harder on himself than the coaches are, he said, and after that play special teams coordinator Chris Horton spoke with Wallace on the sidelines, telling him penalties happen and he needs to “wipe it away.”
The Ravens did not force another punt that half for Wallace to redeem himself on the return unit, but when they returned for the second half, they were down punt returner Devin Duvernay. He was ruled out with a back injury and is being evaluated, according to coach John Harbaugh.
During the week, safety Geno Stone said, typically he and Zay Flowers take reps returning punts along with Duvernay. Wallace returns a few here and there, but Stone said he’s usually up in the box. Stone had no clue Wallace was the No. 2 punt returner. Harbaugh said they considered putting Flowers out there but that Wallace was, in fact, the official No. 2.
When Wallace’s named was called, the coaches told him they trusted him with this responsibility. That, along with the opportunity to redeem himself, “meant the world” to Wallace.
But, with the rain coming down steadily, he was mostly focused on simply catching the ball, something the Rams’ returner, Austin Trammell, struggled to do.
Wallace showed off much more than his solid hands. After fielding the first punt, he returned it 10 yards, more than all of Trammell’s returns combined. He called for a fair catch on the second and returned the third 9 yards.
Then he was sent out in overtime. As everyone on the sidelines was preparing for the next drive, the punt return unit was clearing the perfect lane for Wallace.
He saw the gap and thought, “This is a perfect opportunity to put the game away.” He ran as fast as he could, breaking multiple tackles, but a defender caught his foot at the 45-yard line. Tucker and Stone both thought the shoestring tackle would bring him down, but Wallace wasn’t having it.
“I can’t go down right here,” Wallace said. “I made it this far. I’m like, I have to keep going. I have to stay up.”
Once he regained his balance, everyone just started running toward the end zone, Stone said. Wallace dove into the end zone and, as he bounced back up, his teammates reached him, screaming and hugging.
When it was over, Wallace stayed on the bench for a few more moments.
“For one, I was out of breath,” Wallace said with a laugh before sobering up. “I wanted to sit down and just take in the moment. Moments like this don’t … you could say [it’s] a once-in-a-lifetime moment to be able to sit down and soak that all in while catching my breath at the same time.”
Wallace has not had an easy go of it, spending time on injured reserve for a hamstring injury that he also dealt with the season before. He came back Oct. 28 but hadn’t been given much of a role on game days. He’s played in just six games this year. However, he’s “worked his tail off” and been an incredible teammate, Tucker said. The love for Wallace was shown in the way his teammates lined up to get their chances to embrace him.
It meant a lot to Wallace to make a difference like that. But, however happy he was, Jackson said he was happier.
“I feel like I just returned it,” Jackson said. “I’m more excited than Ty. ... I’m very excited for him. You never know what the future may hold. He just showed out.”
“I hope he never has to buy beer in this town again,” Tucker added.
This story was updated with the proper spelling of Austin Trammell’s last name.