Special teams, once the pride and joy of the Chiefs, nearly undermined the club Sunday.
The Chiefs allowed two big kickoff returns in Sunday’s 34-15 victory over Miami at Sun Life Stadium. They committed three penalties for either illegal blocks or holding in the return game. And Frankie Hammond Jr. made some dubious decisions fielding punts deep in his territory, though he turned two of them into big gains.
Only punter Dustin Colquitt’s booming punts, including one that was downed at the 4, saved face for the special teams.
The coverage problems started right off the bat when Miami rookie Jarvis Landry returned the opening kickoff 40 yards, but the Chiefs defense held, and the Dolphins didn’t cash in the good starting field position.
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But Landry returned another kickoff 74 yards in the third quarter, setting up a field goal that drew the Dolphins to within 21-13.
“We didn’t do a good job getting off the blocks on the returns,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
Landry averaged 34.8 yards in five returns, and part of the problem is Chiefs rookie kicker Cairo Santos’ kickoffs went into the end zone, but not out of the end zone for touchbacks.
“He had great height on them,” Reid said of Santos’ kickoffs. “The thought is if you put it in the end zone and they return it, you’re going to make the tackle somewhere inside the 15. We have to do a better job all the way around. He was giving the players an opportunity with the height of the kicks.
“The flavor of the day though, is (teams are) returning everything. You’re seeing teams bringing them out that all the way (from) the end line. Studies show there is production there. That’s not the way it was when I first got in the game, you always let those go …”
The Chiefs’ Joe McKnight also brought one kickoff out from 3 yards deep and returned it 51 yards to the Kansas City 48 in the third quarter, but Jerry Franklin was called for an illegal block above the waist, bringing the ball back to the 14.
And Hammond fielded a punt at his goal line later in the third quarter, a move that appeared questionable, but he returned it 48 yards. However, Kelcie McCray was called for an illegal block above the waist, bringing the ball back to the Chiefs’ 2. That led to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith being tackled in the end zone for a safety.
“We probably could have let a couple of those go …” Reid said of the decisions to return kicks near the goal line or in the end zone. “They ended up being decent returns.”
When Hammond fielded a punt at his 4 in the fourth quarter, he returned it 47 yards across midfield, setting up a touchdown that gave the Chiefs a 27-15 lead with 4:35 to play.
“We had a couple of penalties that cost us some big returns,” Reid said, “but the bottom line was they fixed the problem and came back strong with that last return, which was important. We were able to seal the game there.”