'Knuckleballs': Aussie star's ‘voodoo’ punts wreak NFL havoc

Mitch Wishnowsky of the San Francisco 49ers looks on.
Mitch Wishnowsky's punting played a pivotal role in the 49ers win over the Bengals. Pic: Getty

San Francisco 49ers punter Mitch Wishnowsky’s unique Australian style of kicking caused plenty of headaches for the Cincinnati Bengals in the 49ers’ 26-23 overtime win on Monday morning (AEDT).

Wishnowsky’s punting forced two first-half fumbles by Bengals returner Darius Phillips, with both turnovers resulting in points for San Francisco.

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The first muffed punt came midway through the first quarter, when Phillips spilt Wishnowsky’s 39-yard kick and it was recovered by River Cracraft at the Bengals’ 23-yard line.

The 49ers converted Phillips’ error into three points, courtesy of a Robbie Gould field goal from 33 yards.

Wishnowsky was at it again just before halftime, unleashing 47-yard bomb that forced another dropped catch from Phillips, with Trent Sherfield diving on the loose ball for the 49ers on this occasion.

Jimmy Garoppolo promptly moved the ball downfield on the ensuing drive, ending with a 14-yard touchdown pass to George Kittle.

With the contest going down to the wire, Wishnowsky also had an important 50-yard punt that pinned the Bengals at their own 13-yard line in the dying stages of the fourth quarter.

It has become common amongst Australian punters in the NFL to use their full repertoire of Aussie rules-style kicks, including the end-over-end drop punt and banana kick, to make life difficult for returners used to catching the more traditional spiral punt.

While it’s tough to decipher exactly the type of kicks Wishnowsky employed to force the errors from Phillips, that didn’t stop 49ers fans on Twitter coming up with their own theories.

Some of the terms used to describe Wishnowsky’s wizardry included ‘lethal’, ‘voodoo’, ‘funky’ and ‘knuckleballs’.

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Speaking after the game, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said the two turnovers by the special teams unit following Wishnowsky’s punts were pivotal in the outcome of the game.

“It was huge. Their backs have been against the wall these last few weeks,” Shanahan said.

“They’ve been down a number of guys and I know how disappointed we’ve all been with these last couple weeks especially.

“But today, that would have been tough to win (without them) today. It seemed like the ball was on the ground so much in the first half but our special teams with the two guys who came up those balls… if we didn’t get those two turnovers, it would’ve been a lot tougher.”

The 49ers are now 7-6 on the season and still in the hunt for an NFC Wild Card spot, while the Bengals are also 7-6 with their playoff hopes in the balance.

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