Hall leads Chiefs past Broncos
The play wasn't even set up for a return. But Dante Hall took nothing and turned into a 93-yard punt return.
KANSAS CITY -- No team in football is seemingly blessed more than the Kansas City Chiefs. Dick Vermeil built his offense around a halfback named Priest, and the Chiefs have won four straight, including their Sunday 24-23 victory over the Broncos, because of a return specialist who seems to be on speaking terms with a higher authority.
Teammates walked off of the Arrowhead grass shaking their heads and muttering "Amens." Asked one Chiefs player, "Is Dante related to Jesus?"
It was a play that shouldn't have happened.
The Broncos led, 23-17, with 8:20 remaining. Frank Ganz Jr., the Chiefs special special teams coach, called for his punt return team to try to block Micah Knorr's punt from midfield. Hall stood at his 5. He had two options at his disposal -- making a fair catch or letting the ball bounce.
Hall went for the return knowing that no blocking was going to be set up for him because the return team was rushing the punter. Once Hall caught the ball he ran to his right and running at him was his former Texas A&M teammate Chris Cole, a Broncos wide receiver and special teams player.
All week, Cole called Hall and told him to "bring it on." Cole was the first guy to greet Hall and he made him miss. Two more Broncos defenders missed Hall, who almost gave coach Dick Vermeil a heart attack when he reversed field and ran backwards to his own 2-yard line.
"I said to myself, 'Oh, Dante, don't go backwards,'" Vermeil said after the game.
But Hall did go backward and made two more defenders miss. That gave Cole another chance to tackle Hall, but a Broncos teammate crashed into him as Hall zipped past. All in all, six different Broncos -- including Cole twice -- missed Hall, who broke into the open field for the 93-yard touchdown after reversing field. Hall evaded seven potential tacklers with no blocking set up, and he stuck it to Cole.
Hall had an article about Cole's trash talking during the week posted on his locker.
"I don't talk trash during the week and let our actions play, but now that the game is over, I'm going to blow up his (Cole's) phone," Hall said.
Broncos players could only praise his efforts.
"It's hard to say anybody else is as valuable to his team than Dante Hall is," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "He's the best I've seen in my 14 years in the league."
His five-game start is one for the ages. He became the first player in NFL history to return a kick (punt or kickoff) for a touchdown in four consecutive games. He tied an NFL record with his fourth kick return for a touchdown this season, and it's only Week 5. He has registered seven kick returns in his past 10 games.
No special teams players has ever been considered for MVP honors. Hall is suddenly the exception.
"I think people heard me say that Dante Hall will return either a punt or a kickoff when it isn't perfect, when we didn't knock the first two guys down," Vermeil said. "He'll do it on his own. This was a difficult one and it was the game-breaker. Sometimes, you win when maybe you aren't that perfect that day. To be undefeated normally, you have to win a game or two that maybe the opponent could have easily won if they had made that big play."
No wonder Broncos coach Mike Shanahan wasn't shouting "Hallelujahs" along the sidelines at his special teams coach. If one thing is certain in the NFL these days, any special teams coach who kicks the ball to Hall risks losing his job. He's the NFL's best game-breaker, outdoing what Deion Sanders did when he was returning kicks along with covering receivers.
Hall touched the ball seven times Sunday in return situations. Those seven touches accounted for an incredible 250 yards and a touchdown. He had four kickoff returns for 101 yards and opened the game by handing the ball off to Marc Boerigter, who broke off a 44-yard return because everyone on the Broncos return team rushed to catch Hall.
|“||It's hard to say anybody else is as valuable to his team than Dante Hall is. He's the best I've seen in my 14 years in the league. ”|
|— Shannon Sharpe, Broncos tight end|
"That run today was unbelievable," Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez said. "He's half-man, half-amazing. I told him if he were in California, he could run for governor. The way he's been playing the past couple of weeks, how good is that for us and how good is that for the NFL? He's hitting on all cylinders. You've got to give credit to those guys blocking for him. Except for today, I don't think anybody blocked for him today."
The other weird part about Hall's fourth-quarter return is that he wasn't feeling well. With 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Hall took a kickoff return from his 9 and hit into a sea of Broncos tacklers. The Broncos had just been stopped at the Chiefs 3 and settled for a field goal and a 23-17 lead All of a sudden, Hall bounces out of those arms and rushes down the right sideline only to be brought down by safety Nick Ferguson at midfield, a return of 41 yards.
Hall hit his head on a hard portion of the sideline and needed help from trainers.
"I hit my head on a really hard part of the ground," Hall said. "I jumped up and I was kinda cuckoo a little bit. My head was spinning. I got an instant headache."
Vermeil thought Hall was cuckoo for taking the punt return five minutes later inside his 10 with no blocking set up.
"That's why I was really in trouble," Hall said. "That return was not smart at that point. Once I returned to the five then the two, I got dumber and dumber and dumber."
But it's more than dumb luck that is guiding his incredible fortunes. Gonzalez calls it that zone a player gets in when everything is going right. The timing for the Chiefs couldn't be better because their offense isn't playing well. Even though they entered the week leading the NFL in scoring, their offense ranked only ninth in total offense. Trent Green has only a 78.6 quarterback rating because he has six interceptions to match his six touchdowns and has been sacked eight times. The ball isn't getting out to the wide receivers. Eddie Kennison and Johnnie Morton have only 29 combined receptions in five games.
"Our offense is up and down," said Green, who completed only 15 of 28 passes Sunday for a mere 128 yards. "We had some good series, but that's a good team over there. Everything is not going to go our way every series. We just need to have more consistency. If you look at our first drive in the second half, we came out five plays and, boom, touchdown. The next series we come and go three-and-out. That's just not consistent."
But Hall is consistent. The Chiefs have 20 touchdowns in five wins, six by returns, four by Hall. It's the first Chiefs team in history to be 5-0.
"We had them on the ropes a few times, but the Chiefs came back and got the crowd back in it," Sharpe said. "We couldn't get the crowd completely out of it. We put up 469 yards of offense, but when you give up big plays in the return game, that's what happens. Dante Hall is playing phenomenal. We had him bottled up and just one lapse and they win the football game."
No doubt, the Chiefs are blessed.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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