Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Skyy Moore didn't return punts in college. But he has the build and skill set of a player who, in theory, should succeed at the position. With that in mind, Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub named Moore as the punt returner to start the season.
As we know now, it quickly became evident that Moore wasn't ready to take on that new role.
Moore's first gaff came in week two against the Indianapolis Colts — when he muffed his first punt of the day with 13:57 left in the first quarter. Moore's next muffed punt came four weeks later against the San Francisco 49ers. Clinging to a one-point lead with two minutes left in the first half, Moore dropped the kick, and 49ers cornerback Samuel Womack III jumped on the ball recovering it at the Chiefs' 12-yard line.
Thankfully for the Chiefs, rookie cornerback Joshua Williams bailed out his teammate by intercepting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. By the time the Chiefs played the Los Angeles Rams in Week 11, the fans' faith in Moore as a punt returner was dwindling. a
Then this happened.
It wasn't just the fans who wanted somebody else returning punts. Secretly, Moore didn't like the pressure of letting his team down and even commented to people within the Chiefs organization that he wanted to be taken off punt returns.
"He didn't say it to me," said Toub. "He said he said it to somebody else, but he said, ‘Don't put me in there.’"
Toub explained that the team had already started looking at different options by that point.
"We took it to the limit,” said Toub. “I mean, basically on that, and that's not why we didn't put him in. We already had decided at that point he needed to sit down for a minute."
The trade for Kadarius Toney allowed Moore to take a break from punt returns and focus on carving out a larger role in the offense as a wide receiver. The fact that Moore waved the momentary white flag on being a returner showed Toub that Moore wasn't afraid to be honest with himself.
"He's telling you how he feels,” said Toub. “So that's important. I mean a guy's not going out there and feeling like he can't do it, and you're throwing him in there anyway."
Fast forward to last week's AFC Championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Chiefs and the Bengals were tied with under a minute to play. The Bengals punted the ball to the Chiefs' 18-yard line.
For elite athletes, half of the battle is mental — forgetting about the last rep — focusing on the moment before you. Nobody is perfect, but the question is this: can you come through for your team when they need to most?
For Moore, the answer was a resounding yes. Catching the ball cleanly, Moore returned the punt up the near sideline for 27 yards, setting up Mahomes' scramble that led to the game-winning field goal.
"It was so good to see redemption for him." explained Toub, "He works so hard. After we put him on the bench, he didn't give up. He just kept coming to practice and working on his catching, and I told him just the other day — maybe a week and a half before that game — I said, 'Man, you are doing great here in practice.'
“And his confidence was getting better and better, and when we needed him the most, he stepped it up and did a great job for us."
And it’s not just returning. On Friday, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy that when fellow wide receivers Mecole Hardman, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Kadarius Toney all went out with injury, Moore stepped up and played a bigger role than was expected.
"There was a moment in time throughout that game when we threw Skyy in the game, and Skyy had to play a number of positions," revealed Bienienmy. "And I was talking to him about a particular play and he yelled at me and said a few words to me. You know, I'm not going to mumble those words, but it went something like, ‘You know, you just put me in. Just tell me the personnel and I'm going to make it right.’"
Despite Moore's newfound faith in himself and the respect he has earned from the coaching staff, Toub said that if Toney is healthy, he would be the punt returner.
"I mean obviously Skyy helped himself, but we're not going to just throw him right back in there again,” said Toub. “I mean he did a great job coming off the bench. We'll keep him in that role."
Regardless of the role he will play in the Super Bowl, it sounds like the coaching staff has faith Moore can and will answer the call.