With the Chiefs leading 23-7 in the third quarter, they had a fourth-and-19 at their own 35-yard line, so they set up to punt. But the Patriots’ Nate Ebner breezed through the line and blocked it. Two plays later, the Patriots scored their last touchdown of the day.
In the moment, few gave it much notice. It was just a blocked punt. These things happen. Even CBS color commentator Tony Romo — typically Johnny-on-the-spot for this kind of thing — didn’t notice anything unusual about the play.
But then Patriots head coach Bill Belichick — himself a former special teams coach — talked about it in his conference call with the New England media on Monday.
“On that particular play, that was a little unusual,” said Belichick via NESN.com. “It looked like they had a fake called — and then they snapped it to the punter. Part of the line was blocking a fake, and the other part looked like they were trying to punt the ball. I’m not sure what exactly they were doing on that — you’d have to ask them. But it looked like they had a fake called.”
In Kansas City, Belichick’s remarks prompted a question for Chiefs head coach Andy Reid in his Monday conference call.
“Yeah, we had a fake called,” said Reid. “It just didn’t get executed the way we wanted it.”
These comments from the head coaches generated much speculation about what the Chiefs had intended to do. Some recalled a similar situation in the game vs. the Falcons in 2016. But the play worked that time.
Those thoughts could be spot-on. It’s also possible that Anthony Sherman was supposed to get a pass; he’s standing expectantly beyond the line of scrimmage.
But when Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub took his turn with the press on Thursday, he was asked about the play. He clearly didn’t want to talk about it very much, but he did give us some more information.
“There were a lot of people who were at fault,” said Toub. “We’re not going to get into that. Every game we go into, there are certain looks [where] we’ll have an automatic fake on punts.”
Toub’s assertion that “a lot of people” fouled up — on what was supposed to be an automatic play — if true, would blow up two common narratives about it: that only long-snapper James Winchester was to blame because he snapped the ball to the wrong person, and that the blown play resulted from some players not hearing an audible calling the fake.
Toub’s remarks made it clear that multiple players were on a different page — and they were supposed to know what to do based on how the Patriots lined up against them.
“That was one of those situations where the communication didn’t get met,” added Toub. “We let a guy run free — and that’s when you get a blocked punt. It was ugly.”
But in the second part of what Toub said, he referred to “communication not being met.” That would suggest that an audible might have been involved after all. Or it might be that on the sideline before the play, players didn’t hear (or understand) the directions they were given. Responsibility for that could fall on Toub himself, as multiple players seem to have misinterpreted the instructions the same way; the film seems to show that Belichick had it right: part of the team was blocking for a punt, and part of it was blocking for a fake.
As often happens, we’ll never really know exactly how this play went off the rails. But it seems likely that in this week’s Chiefs practice sessions, extra work is being done on punt-fakes. The team is now at the part of the season where they can’t afford many plays like this one.