Nick Allegretti had never scored a touchdown before — that is, up until last Sunday's wild-card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Down seven points five minutes into the second quarter, the Kansas City Chiefs offense roared to life, scoring three unanswered touchdowns and taking a 21-7 lead into halftime. Coming out of the break, Kansas City continued its momentum, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes deftly navigated the Chiefs offense down the field, gaining 62 yards in six plays and setting the Chiefs up with second-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 5-yard-line.
On the next play, Mahomes hit Tyreek Hill on a short pass — Hill broke the defender's initial tackle and dove towards the goal-line. The play was initially called a touchdown on the field, but after it was reviewed, the officials determined that Hill was down short, leaving the Chiefs with third-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line.
This was Allegretti's moment; he just did not know it yet.
Andy Reid sent a variation of the Jumbo formation out onto the field (six offensive linemen, two tight ends, a fullback, a running back, and the quarterback). The casual fan might be thinking, "I thought it was illegal to throw the ball to an offensive lineman?"
This is where things get fun: according to the rules, anyone who lines up outside of the tackle or at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage is considered an eligible receiver. However, if his jersey number is for a position that is usually ineligible, the player must check in with the referee and declare themselves eligible. Otherwise, it's an illegal formation and a penalty.
Here is a short description of the rule:
Eligible Numbers (1-49, 80-99) | Ineligible Numbers (50-79, 90-99)
All coaches have a few plays that require extra blocking protection, which is typically accomplished by having one of the linemen outside of the interior line position where an eligible receiver is required. To make the formation compliant, the lineman playing out of position must report as “eligible” to the referee.
The referee will make an announcement of the ineligible player who is reporting, then signal by sweeping his hands vertically in front of his chest (as if “erasing” the number) and point to the newly eligible player.
In this specific play, Allegretti lines up on the inside shoulder of Travis Kelce, disguising himself as a run blocker. His first assignment is to assist Kelce in blocking Steelers All-Pro linebacker T.J. Watt — initially, Kelce and Allegretti engaged Watt together; Allegretti's presence allowed Kelce to pass Watt off to him, freeing the Chiefs tight end to slip away on a 5-yard out pattern.
Watt is generally a major mismatch when left one on one with a blocker, and this is where the genius of Reid's play design comes into focus. By starting the play with a momentary double team and rub block from Kelce, the Chiefs prevent Watt from getting to the outside, sealing the edge, which stops Watt's forward progress long enough that by the time he attempts to regain his momentum and work through Allegretti to get to Mahomes, he is already off-balance and leaning forward just enough to allow Allegretti to chuck him to the turf like a rag doll.
That left Allegretti wide open to leak upfield for the easy catch and score. With that touchdown, the Chiefs put the league on notice and said, "We are all gas this time around. There are no brakes on this freight train."
Allegretti was actually Mahomes' fourth read on the play.
"(Michael) Burton was the first read and I thought he did a great job of actually going in front of that defensive end to kind of give me room to throw," explained Mahomes after the game. "Then it was (Travis) Kelce and then it was the guy (Blake Bell) on the back-end line. We kind of just tell Allegretti to leak out late, not thinking that we're ever going to throw it to him. It was funny because in practice this week, I threw it to him because everyone else was covered and I wasn't trying to, it just happened, and of course, it happens in the game the exact same way."
For his efforts in dominating Watt en route to his touchdown catch, NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" bestowed its coveted Anger Scepter to Allegretti on Tuesday morning.
Tuesday after practice, Reid was asked what it was that he saw in Allegretti that gave him the confidence that he could execute the play if his number was called. Reid replied that the linemen do the "pat and go" drill on Fridays, a once-a-week breather from hitting the sled.
"You get an idea of who can catch and who can't, so if you got a little bit of skill there, we'll try to work with you," said Reid. "Allegretti, he's got great hands, for a wrestler, he's got great hands. He did a nice job."
The pat-and-go drill is usually done daily as a warm-up with the quarterbacks and the receivers. We typically do it before walk-through or stretch as a drill that enables the quarterbacks and skill players to loosen up. This drill helps the quarterbacks get their arms warm, and it helps the skill players get their legs warm.
Allegretti was asked about the drill on Wednesday.
"We call that our fat and slow period, and I know he's paying attention to everything," noted Allegretti. "I think it's pretty obvious. You can tell some guys definitely cannot catch but didn't quite know he was scouting us. So, glad I was doing well out there."