The Los Angeles Chargers’ best opportunity of turning fortunes on Sunday was dashed by the approach of the Chiefs’ special teams — in particular, punt team snapper James Winchester.
The Chargers had scored to close the gap to 31-20 and forced a three-and-out. KC’s Dustin Colquitt punted from the 27 with about 10 minutes remaining.
“Then it was kind of a perfect storm,” Winchester said.
A perfect snap and a booming Colquitt punt had rookie wide receiver JJ Jones drifting back to the corner of the field. He attempted to make the catch at the 14 but muffed it. The ball bounced to the 7, where Jones attempted to corral it.
But a fellow speedster De’Anthony Thomas got to Jones just as he was about to make a move and stripped the ball away.
The ball bounded inside the 5-yard line, and the first one to it was the man who had his hands on the ball to start the play.
“Right place at the right time,” Winchester said. “You just stay on it.”
Those thoughts are related. By staying with the play and sprinting 70 yards, Winchester was on time at the ideal spot. His recovery at the 2 led to the Chiefs’ final touchdown, a 1-yard shovel pass to Tyreek Hill that made the lead insurmountable.
The Chiefs look to carry that momentum into Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh.
For Winchester, the fourth-year long snapper from Oklahoma, this wasn’t his first major contribution on special teams.
Two years ago at Denver, he fell on a fumbled punt — Thomas again was again the first person on the spot to cause disruption — to help the Chiefs win the prime-time game.
Last season against Philadelphia, Winchester forced a fumble from return specialist Darren Sproles that led to a field-goal possession just before halftime.
Winchester motors downfield because opportunity may await — a lesson learned from special teams coach Dave Toub.
“When you go hard, you have a chance to make a play,” Winchester said. “We’re taught to stay on it, no matter what. You don’t relax, or think he may just go out of bounds.”
Getting takeaways has been a large part of the Chiefs’ success under Andy Reid. Entering this season, the Chiefs have accumulated 138 takeaways over the previous five seasons, the most in the AFC and third most in the NFL.
The Chiefs didn’t commit a turnover Sunday and turned both takeaways — safety Ron Parker’s interception was the other one — into touchdown possessions.
The team’s top takeaway artist, cornerback Marcus Peters, is now with the L.A. Rams. The Chiefs need a ball hawk or group effort: whatever it takes to keep takeaways trending in the right direction.
Sunday was a good start.