By Matt Derrick
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs stumbled to a 24-0 deficit last week against the Houston Texans, but the blame didn’t fall entirely on the offense or defense. Instead, the once-reliable special teams unit surrendered a blocked punt for a touchdown and muffed another directly leading to a score.
Punter Dustin Colquitt found in disbelief.
“You look up at the scoreboard and you’re like, ‘Gosh, we’ve been responsible for 14 of these 21 points,’ Colquitt said.
Last Sunday wasn’t the first time Kansas City’s special teams unit suffered a momentary lapse. Colquitt entered the season with just five punts blocked in six punts blocked in his NFL career entering this season, and he’s had two in his past five games. The blocked punt by New England in Week 14 brought to an end his franchise record of 458 consecutive punts without a block.
The blocked punt by the Patriots stemmed from a miscommunication, according to special teams coordinator Dave Toub, a problem that reared its ugly head a few times this season.
“Every game we go into there are certain looks that will have an automatic fake for on punts,” Toub said after the New England game. “It’s like an offensive play. That was one of those situations where the communication didn’t get met and we let a guy run free, and that’s when you get a blocked punt. It was ugly.”
But Kansas City’s most costly special teams’ miscues came in Week 10 against Tennessee. A botched snap on a field goal try and a blocked field goal at the end of the game doomed the Chiefs in a 35-32 loss to the Titans. Tennessee defensive back Joshua Kalu picked up on the team’s pre-snap cadence and timed his rush perfectly.
“Obviously we were giving away our cadence a little bit,” Toub said. “I needed to do a better job of noticing that he was doing it during the game because he was definitely getting a great get off the whole game.”
Now the Colquitt says he along with long snapper James Winchester and kick Harrison Butker alter their routine to avoid falling into a rhythm opponents can synchronize.
“We just had to kind of step back, kind of self-scout, say, ‘How are we going to change this?’ just from James, me and Butker, because it’s not just one person doing it,” Colquitt said.
Toub feels the breakdown against Tennessee served as a wakeup call for the entire special teams unit.
“We moved forward and since then we’ve had a lot of games and done a pretty good job since then,” Toub said.
Last week’s game against Houston nearly derailed that streak. After the two early disastrous plays that nearly buried the Chiefs, special teams came to the rescue. Mecole Hardman started things by returning a kickoff 58 yards to set up the team’s first of seven straight touchdowns drives.
“Mecole’s kickoff return kind of sparked us, got our team saying, ‘Hey, you know, we’re OK. We’re going to make plays,’” Toub said.
Special teams made a series of big plays after that. Safety Dan Sorensen made two huge plays, first stopping Houston’s Justin Reid for a 2-yard gain on a punt fake on fourth-and-4 and a few minutes later forcing a fumble by DeAndre Carter on a kickoff return.
Toub called Sorensen’s effort on the fake punt “ one of the most unbelievable tackles” he’s ever seen.
“But Dan, I think he’s been waiting all year for that play,” Toub said. “He zeroes in on that guy and he’s looking for that direct snap, and here it came. He just shot out of a cannon and didn’t miss a beat and made a nice tackle in space.”
Butker also came up big in Toub’s eyes with an 80-yard kickoff from his own 20 after a taunting penalty by Damien Williams after a touchdown. Colquitt singled out receiver Byron Pringle for downing a punt at the 7-yard line.
“We just started hitting on all cylinders,” Colquitt said. “Two things happen and then we had five really big things happen on special teams in the last second, third and fourth quarter.”
This week the Chiefs revisit one of their most disappointing special teams’ performances of the season with Tennessee visiting Arrowhead Stadium with the AFC Championship on the line. If given a chance for redemption against the Titans, Toub believes his group is poised to strike.
“It’s going to come down to special teams,” Toub said. “Just like last week, it was huge. Our guys know important it is and we’re focused and we’re preparing and we’re ready.”
Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and a contributor for Sports Radio 810 WHB. Follow him on Twitter @mattderrick.