For many Kansas City Chiefs fans, unpredictability in the kicking game has long been a part of following the team — sometimes with infamously heartbreaking results. It is fair to say, however, that the developments in Sunday’s 44-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals were unprecedented.
Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker left the game after rolling his ankle on a first-quarter kickoff. Safety Justin Reid then went one-for-two on extra point attempts after the team’s next two touchdowns. A visibly hobbled Butker then returned to kick a 54-yard field goal at the end of the half — while taking only one step to the kick. Butker would kick three more extra points, while Reid continued handling kickoffs for the duration.
Chiefs assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Dave Toub revealed that in any context, he had never seen Butker make a kick like the one that closed the first half.
“I’d never seen him do a one-step 54-yarder,” he marveled. “I’d never seen that. I’ve seen him hit 30-yarders just to warm up — and then after that, he goes right into his normal steps.”
While he admitted that having a kicker who can get a field goal off so quickly might give a competitive edge, Toub said he doesn’t expect Butker to continue with the one-step motion.
“I don’t think that would be normal for him — just because he would feel like he’s losing so much power,” Toub hypothesized. “Power’s important to him — and it’s important to us. You don’t want to have too many different techniques. [But] there’s something to be said about how he was able to adjust. It says something about his professionalism, for sure.”
Toub was impressed with how Reid performed in a pinch — but we should not expect the team to be too aggressive with the league’s premier safety/kicker hybrid. Toub said that during the game, he gave head coach Andy Reid an estimate of the safety’s field-goal range.
“I told Andy during the game that if we had to keep going with him,” he recalled, “I thought that if we got the ball on the 25-yard line we’d be good with him. Which would be a 43-yarder or so.”
According to Toub, Justin Reid was never a candidate to attempt the field goal at the end of the half.
“There was no thought in him hitting that long one,” he clarified. “If we didn’t have Butker at that time — if we didn’t think we had Butker — we probably would’ve just went for it right there. I think that was a little bit too far out of his range right there, realistically.”
While the Chiefs have a firm limit on trusting the unexpected backup kicker, Toub is still impressed with the veteran safety’s talent.
“He played soccer when he was younger,” the coach explained. “So he understands the motion of it and where the ball is supposed to be placed on his foot. Growing up, I’m sure — as a soccer player and a football player — he started kicking a football at a young age, and he has talent.
“We heard that when we first got him — but then we got out there, he kept bugging me about wanting to hit them in practice. When I watched him, I was like, ‘Wow, he does have a lot of talent.’ It’s real, and he did it. It’s unbelievable — but it’s impressive, as well.”
During Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals lost long-snapper Clark Harris to injury — and without him in overtime, the Bengals missed on multiple chances to win with a field goal before ultimately losing the game. Should the Chiefs find themselves in such an emergency situation, Toub has a player in mind: tight end Travis Kelce
“That’s why you do that stuff,” observed Toub, “so you don’t flinch when something goes wrong. You throw a guy in — and you expect him to play at a high level. [Justin Reid] did such a good job for us jumping in there. He was definitely our special teams player of the week.”
Butker’s status for Thursday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers remains to be seen. On Monday’s estimated injury report, he was given a did-not-practice designation. The Chiefs signed former New York Jets kicker Matt Ammendola to the practice squad on Monday.
Still, Toub wants Butker back as soon as possible — and continues to say he is a special talent who is comparable to the kicker widely considered as the league’s best: Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens.
“He’s right there neck and neck with [Tucker], in my opinion — but I’m a little biased,” he admitted. “His work ethic and everything about Butker is first-rate. So I’d put him right up in there. They’re one and two right there — those two, for sure.”