CHARLOTTE – Greg Olsen isn’t one to throw himself a party for National Tight Ends Day, which teams across the NFL will be celebrating this Sunday.
But in honor of the super-legit holiday, I was able to convince Carolina’s All-Pro tight end to revisit his five favorite catches. We pulled up the film in the tight ends meeting room and Olsen provided recollections from each play.
He went with five touchdown grabs, and the context of each catch played a huge role in their inclusion. As he pointed out, “Not all touchdowns are created equal.”
So, without further ado, here is Olsen’s list.
Oh, and don’t forget to honor that special tight end in your life this Sunday.
2007: Bears at Packers – Olsen’s first touchdown
It’s a Sunday night game between the old NFC North rivals in Week 5 of Olsen’s rookie year. The Packers had just turned the ball over, and Chicago dialed up a play for their rookie tight end.
“So the play before, Brian Urlacher forced a turnover and we took over on the 20-yard line,” Olsen said. “We called this play ‘boom.’ (Tight end) Des Clark runs like a nod-9 and I’m just running a wheel.”
Olsen made a leaping grab for quarterback Brian Griese in the end zone, but the defender pushed him out before he could get his feet down. Well, back in those days, a force-out meant Olsen had in fact scored. And obviously the first one is special no matter how it happens.
“The irony of this play is if it happened today it would not be a touchdown. But in 2007, if you were forced out of bounds it was ruled a completion. You can see the defender pushed me out and the ref signaled for the touchdown,” Olsen said.
“First ever touchdown. I was very excited. I had gotten off to a rough start. I had gotten hurt so I missed the first two games and then I had to play the next two with a knee brace on, so I couldn’t run real well. This felt amazing.”
2010: Bears vs. Seahawks – Olsen’s big play in the Divisional Playoff
“This was fun because it was literally the third play of the game,” Olsen said. “My first ever playoff game, in the snow at Soldier Field. Seattle had just upset New Orleans in the Wild Card when Marshawn Lynch had that crazy run.”
When the Bears broke the huddle for this play, no one expected Olsen to be on the receiving end of a 58-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler. It was the first of 28 unanswered points for Chicago.
“I didn’t really think I was getting the ball,” Olsen said. “Nothing says I should catch this ball. It’s quarters coverage and the safety to my side – Lawyer Milloy – is just really low. That’s young (safety) Earl Thomas and he’s favoring the two-receiver side. (Milloy) just squatted. It’s third-and-short and he’s thinking I’m going to run a break of some sort. I was able to just run right by him.”
2014: Panthers vs. Bears – Olsen catches game-winner against former team
“This is one of my favorite plays,” Olsen said.
For Olsen, who was traded to Carolina just prior to the start of the 2011 season, this was his third crack at his former team. The third time was the charm.
On third-and-goal late in a tie game, quarterback Cam Newton fired a strike to his trusted tight end for the go-ahead score.
“It was cool obviously with my history with Chicago,” Olsen said. “It was just an RPO (run-pass option) and I had a little option there.”
Olsen, not known to do much celebrating or show much emotion after scores, was fired up after that 6-yard touchdown catch in the closing minutes. You can see him screaming through his facemask after getting to his feet.
“Yeah,” Olsen said, “I was pretty excited to score this one to beat my old team.”
2015: Panthers at Seahawks – Olsen completes epic comeback
When it’s all said and done, this one will likely go down as Olsen’s most memorable reception for Panthers fans. Carolina, undefeated but still largely unproven at the time, was engineering a comeback at Seattle. And the Panthers kept calling Olsen’s number in crunch time.
“We had run this play earlier in the game and I took it all the way down the 1-yard line. (Cornerback) Richard Sherman tried to undercut that one and I remember when Cam threw it thinking, ‘Oh, (expletive).’ I just went up and was able to catch it. We scored on the next play and got the ball back right before the 2-minute warning and had an awesome 2-minute drive,” Olsen said.
“Cotch made that critical one-handed catch. We got to the 26 and spiked it. We called the same play from the previous drive. This time I was able to take it up the seam. They had some communication issues – I’m not sure which coverage they thought they were in. Obviously, it was a relatively easy catch. All I could think to myself was, ‘Don’t clip your foot on the turf and trip.’”
Olsen raised his arms victoriously. The Seattle crowd – and the mighty Seahawks defense – was stunned.
“That right there put us on the map,” Olsen said. “It just meant a lot to win that game against that team on the road.”
2015: Panthers vs. Seahawks – Olsen pulls in jaw-dropping TD catch
“This is probably my best catch all things considered,” Olsen said.
It was a rematch against that same Seattle team, this time in Charlotte for a Divisional Playoff. The Panthers were absolutely rolling in the first half, and that was punctuated by this unbelievable touchdown catch by Olsen between two defenders. Then we were privy to another rare Olsen celebration, as he tossed the ball high into the air and casually made his way to the Panthers’ sideline like it was nothing.
“You could tell they had a plan for it back-side, they had a lot of guys over there,” Olsen said. “It’s third-and-13, and if I did it again, I would probably go inside that guy (corner Jeremy Lane) and cross his face. They had me bracketed but I was able to run between them. Cam just said, ‘Screw it.’ On this day, everything we did worked.
“We had no business scoring there. That’s one I will always remember with the crowd reaction and everything.”