Turning Points: Botched punt and special teams coverage builds early KC lead
Could’ve. Would’ve. Should’ve. These words define those who fall short of their goals. Such is the case of this series, which will examine the ebbs and flows of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 season and how specific individual plays may have shaped the year.
The Steelers started their 2018 season with an overtime road tie to the Cleveland Browns: who went 0-16 in the previous season.
Doubts were in the minds of Steelers Nation as if this year’s team would be any good. Little did anyone know just how good the Kansas City Chiefs offense was going to be either, as the two clashed in Pittsburgh’s home opener at Heinz Field.
The game began with a 3-and-out by the Steelers offense (which is never a good sign!) The special teams unit took the field to punt, as Steelers P Jordan Berry took the snap and shanked a put for a mere 39 yards.
The TV camera crew was confused by the boot too, as the cameras were centered on Chiefs dynamic return specialist Tyreek Hill. It’s obvious that Berry was instructed to not allow the the ball to reach Hill, but the kick also remains inbounds rather than going over the thick white stripe.
With the ball in play, the up man on the play, De’Anthony Thomas, has nothing but a wide-open running lane to work with as he fields the ball.
The special teams unit is at an immediate disadvantage as Steelers CB Cameron Sutton, playing the outside coverage, was already pushed off of the field of play. (He’s on the ground, out of view, just above Thomas in the top-left gold box.)
On the ground in view is Roosevelt Nix, who misses a diving tackle, leaving absolutely no one else with an opportunity to make a play… other than punter Jordan Berry (bottom right box, who gets flattend at the end of the clip as well.)
Thomas returns the play for 31 yards as Sutton recovers, and punches the ball from the returner’s hands: a fumble that magically pops right back into Thomas’ arms five yards down the field!
Thomas then continues on for an additional 12-yard gain: a total of 48 yards on the return. The negative play set the Steelers way back beyond the original line of scrimmage from the punt (their own 19-yard line) and placed the Chiefs in prime scoring position at the Pittsburgh 10.
This play destroyed the Steelers defense, who could do nothing to lockdown the ten yard zone. Kansas City would strike first in the game with a touchdown two plays later and eventually go on to win by a final score of 42-37… but what may have been if this punt was covered for a fair catch or simply went out of bounds?
Or what if the ball bounced away from Thomas and toward Sutton for a fumble recovery?
We’ll never know how the game may have turned out!