Lost Ball On Free Kick Is Biggest Special Teams Gaffe Of All

The Pittsburgh Steelers got off to a roaring start on special teams this season, including scoring their first points of the year off a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown. The following week, they successfully defended a fake punt on a pass attempt that was batted down—both plays delivered by Tyler Matakevich.

It started to go sound after that. in the third game of the season, Eli Rogers muffed a punt that the Bears recovered, eventually scoring a touchdown on that drive. Later in the same game, they had a blocked field goal that should have been returned for a touchdown.

And Sunday’s game was more of the same, another generally poor day for Danny Smith’s unit. Including a touchback on a punt, a 32-yard return allowed in the clutch, and this time Antonio Brown muffing a punt, there were a number of things that went wrong on the day.

None were so egregious and frankly infuriating as that which happened in the middle of the first quarter, which no doubt sent waves of groans and mutterings of not again through Steelers fandom.

Pittsburgh got a break when the Chiefs accidentally snapped the football out of the back of the end zone for a safety on a second and 17 play from Kansas City’s nine-yard line. That gave them a two-point lead, and what should have been possession of the ball.

What followed was the conventional free-kick attempt, but the fielding attempt was anything but. It’s not as though you don’t already know this, but with Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster aligned back to receive the kick, neither of them managed to do so, and the Chiefs were able to fall on the loose ball, gaining possession of the Steelers’ 32-yard line.

The ball bounced at pretty much exactly the 35-yard line, about five yards to the left of the hash marks on the Steelers’ offensive left side, and proceeded to bounce backward and to the right, ending up on the far hash mark at the 33.

While I know intuitively that it has happened before, it is frankly something that I simply can’t remember ever seeing. Truthfully, there is no excuse for a team being unable to successfully field a free kick.

Instead of running up under the kick, Brown, about two yards shy of the ball and to the left, chose to let it bounce. It’s not clear if he thought Smith-Schuster was to his right or what, but the bottom line is that neither of them were actually able to get the job done.

Unfortunately, Game Pass’ incompetence this year seems to not even have the coaches film of this play available

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • pcantidote

    At the time I thought that was the “here we go” moment where we just collapse on the road. Instead this was the moment where our defense showed that it had come to play ball.

  • Hey, Antonio Brown! Always remember! A safety is followed by a kickoff, NOT A PUNT!

  • Michael James

    Danny Smith needs to be gone after the season, if they continue to play this way. We’re having this debate every year and there is a point when it’s simply enough. Nothing personal, thank you for coaching here Danny, but it’s time to try another special teams coach. The punting has been bad so far and something like the play mentioned above can’t happen. It’s his job as a special teams coordinator to remind every single returner beforehand, that this is a free ball and that the punting rules don’t apply here.

  • Chris92021

    Honestly I think he should have never been hired. Anyone who is stupid enough to try the swinging gate twice does not need to be coaching football beyond the pee wee level.

    Last Sunday, the way AB and JuJu reacted, it seemed like Smith forgot to tell them that they have to catch the free kick. Only after did the Chiefs dove for it that we saw the “oh crap” reaction from JuJu. I put that on Smith. He is just plain awful. He needs to go now, not at the end of the season.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I was furious when that happened. Livid. The Chiefs just hand the Steelers 2 free points and possession with good field possession. And what do the Steelers do? They trade it for an all-but-guaranteed 3 points (and decent shot at 6). As fans, we bang our heads against the wall enough as it is when the Steelers settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. But to screw up a free kick? Frankly, it’s embarrassing.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    technically a free kick I believe

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    Sorry, I though you were referring to Smith-Schuster lol

  • David Shoff

    Danny Smith’s numbers we mediocre with the redskins. I don’t know why we were so insistent on hiring him. Why do we always have bad special teams, even before Smith? You have to go back MANY years to find good special teams for the Steelers.

  • Reader783

    It seemed to me that Antonio had no clue that the safety punt was a live ball. He seemed to run over to JJSS to call him off and field the punt, only to realize the wind was gusting, shade was blocking his view, whatever it may have been and he just let it bounce rather than muffing it, assuming it would be downed. When it hit the ground, you could see AB kind of watch it and then panic when he realized JJSS was trying to recover it.

    If that is the case, Danny is at fault for that.

  • dennisdoubleday

    Also, the Redskins put up no objection when we hired him away in a lateral move. Bad sign.

  • will

    That is coaching. Belicheat practices that each week!

  • nutty32

    Seemed pretty clear this was 100% on AB. Not sure why the TV cameraman/producer kept following JJSS around as if he messed up, just because he came closest to recovering the ball. AB just misjudged an easily catchable ball. Romo was saying it was one of those typical KC dust bowl windy days.
    AB also muffed another punt later in the game that he fell on with the same apparent adventure with the wind and inability to properly judge the drop point.
    AB got the superstar pass for his mess ups.

  • pittsburghjoe

    Blame this on the players not the coaches. Perfect example of low player IQ.

  • Steve

    With you Joe. These players have played how long and never seen a Free Kick before?

  • John Phillips

    The guy before Danny was the only good ST coach in the Tomlin era.
    Of course Tom had to fire him in the PRESEASON.

  • So a free kick is a punt???????

  • As far as I know, the team the safety was scored on can kick the ball in either three different ways. They can drop kick, place kick or kick the ball punt-style, but the ball is to be handled by the receiving team as is a kickoff. They can’t just let the ball go to the team that kicked the ball or they will regain possession, just as the Chiefs did.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Section 1
    Procedures for a Free Kick
    FREE KICK
    Article 1

    A free kick is a kickoff or safety kick that puts the ball in play to start a free kick down. It may be made from any point on the kicking (offensive) team’s restraining line and between the inbounds lines.

    (b) A safety kick puts the ball in play after a safety. A dropkick, placekick, or punt may be used for a safety kick. A tee cannot be used for a safety kick.

  • Will

    Ok. For the sake of argument I’m gonna say you’re right Joe. These players are dumb as $h t.

    So the coach should be reminding them before they head out onto the field for a play that really doesn’t happen all that often shouldn’t he? If not why have the coach on the sidelines. Just coach them during the week and sit at home come game time.

    Gzzz Joe. Tell me more stories.

  • Steeler Nation!

    I agree. His body of work hasn’t been good. His arrow has been and continues to point down. Cost us the Bears game. Could’ve been very costly vs KC. It’s one thing to not be explosive on KO return. It’s another to have units look like they have no idea what to do (FG vs Bears, Free kick on Sunday).

  • Rocksolid20

    Zook .

  • Matthew Marczi

    Great point.