Chiefs rookie running back Knile Davis couldn’t have returned the kickoff any farther if he tried.
Davis fielded a kickoff as far back in the end zone as possible — nine yards deep — and returned it 109 yards for a touchdown in the Chiefs’ 26-20 preseason win over Pittsburgh on Saturday night, continuing the team’s spectacular run of special-teams play.
Davis’ return came a week after Quintin Demps returned a kickoff 104 yards for a score against San Francisco. Had it been a regular-season game, Davis’ return would have set an NFL record, breaking the mark of 108 yards shared by New England’s Ellis Hobbs (2007) and Green Bay’s Randall Cobb (2011).
And, remember, this from a team that had not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since the 2009 season, which happened to come against Pittsburgh.
Davis, who had fumbled on a running play in the second quarter, atoned for the turnover after the Steelers had just taken a 17-10 lead.
He fielded the kickoff a step in front of the back line of the end zone and zipped straight up field, taking advantage of blocks by Terrance Copper and Edgar Jones.
“It split, and I saw daylight and I just ran as fast as I could,” said Davis, a third-round pick from Arkansas. “Those guys picked up their blocks, and I was able to make something happen and keep us in the game. It made up for (the fumble).”
Davis broke a tackle by Pittsburgh’s Josh Victorian before reaching midfield and raced to the right sideline where he tight-roped the chalk between the Steelers 35 and 30 and coasted in for the score.
“Every inch of that field counts,” Davis said of his staying in bounds. “One more inch and I probably would have been out of bounds, but luckily I was able to tight-rope it and go score.”
The return game has been part of a special-teams renaissance directed by new special-teams coach Dave Toub.
Toub has encouraged his return men to be aggressive in the preseason and return kickoffs from deep in the end zone and punts from inside the 10.
Davis said if this would have been a regular-season game, he would have brought the ball out from nine yards deep.
It was the second kickoff return of the preseason by Davis, a third-round pick from Arkansas. He went 79 yards before he was run out of bounds at New Orleans. So he is averaging 94.0 yards per return.
“The thing I was proud the most about for him was that he came off a fumble and then put together the big return,” coach Andy Reid said. “He didn’t hang his head and went back to it and came up with a nice return.”
The Chiefs special teams also blocked their second kick of the preseason on Saturday. Safety Tysyn Hartman broke through in the second quarter and smothered a 52-yard field goal attempt by Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham that could have given the Steelers a 13-0 lead.
The Chiefs took over at their 48 and turned that field position into a field goal of their own.
“Our special teams have been great,” said Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. “Special teams is such a momentum-changing unit.”