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Special teams were impactful

Posted Feb 6, 2016

The Steelers special teams produced a game-winning FGs, a punt return for a TD, blocked FGs and TOs from the coverage team.

The Steelers had a hard time kicking field goals in the beginning of the season and a tough time catching punts at season’s end, but in between the special teams had their moments.

The highlight-reel play was wide receiver Antonio Brown’s 71-yard punt return for a touchdown on Dec. 6 against Indianapolis. Brown’s fourth career punt return for a touchdown tied him with Antwaan Randle El for first on the Steelers’ all-time list.

Brown ended up 10th in the NFL in punt returns in 2015 at 9.6 yards per attempt.

But the special teams provided an example of the impact they were capable of making in coverage as well as on returns on Nov. 8 against Oakland.

The kickoff after the Steelers had grabbed a 28-21 lead in the fourth quarter resulted in a forced fumble by fullback Roosevelt Nix at the Oakland 15-yard line and a fumble recovery by linebacker Anthony Chickillo at the Raiders’ 6.

Two plays later the Steelers were in the end zone again and leading 35-21 in a game they’d eventually survive, 38-35.

A similar turn of events occurred in the regular-season finale on Jan. 3 at Cleveland.

This time it was Chickillo forcing a fumble on a fourth-quarter kickoff with the Steelers leading 25-12 and cornerback Brandon Boykin making the recovery at the Cleveland 28.

The revelation in the kicking game was kicker Chris Boswell.

The Steelers had to first go through Garrett Hartley (injured) and Josh Scobee (released) upon trying to find a replacement Shaun Suisham (injured). But once they settled on Boswell he made up for lost time.

Boswell made his debut on Oct. 12 at San Diego and ended up leading the NFL with 29 field goals from Week 5 through the end of the regular season and finishing second in points with 113 in that span (New England’s Stephen Gostkowski had 116).

Boswell’s 29-for-32 showing on field-goal attempts set a Steelers’ record for rookie/first-year kickers (90.6 percent) and was good for fourth on the Steelers’ all-time list in that category (Suisham, 93.8, 2013; Gary Anderson, 93.3, 1993; Jeff Reed, 92.0, 2007). Boswell also set Steelers’ records for rookie/first-year kickers with 29 field goals and 113 points.

Boswell’s 29 field goals tied for fifth in franchise history overall (Norm Johnson, 34, 1994; Anderson, 33, 1985; Suisham, 30, 2013; Kris Brown, 30, 2001; Suisham, 29, 2014; Roy Gerela, 29, 1973).

Punter Jordan Berry, signed on April 14, 2015, wound up No. 3 in the NFL with 47.5 percent of his punts (28 of 59) downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Berry trailed only Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt (49.3) and Oakland’s Marquette King (48.2) in that department and set a Steelers’ record in that category by surpassing Josh Miller’s 42.0 percent showing in 1998 (34 of 81).

Berry also tied the Steelers’ record for net punting average in a season at 39.1 yards (Daniel Sepulveda averaged 39.1 yards in 2010).

Linebacker Vince Williams and safety Shamarko Thomas tied for the team lead with nine solo tackles on special teams (Williams had a team-leading 11 total stops to Thomas’ 10).

Defensive end Cam Heyward got into the special-teams act with a blocked field goal on Nov. 1 against Cincinnati and a blocked extra point on Nov. 29 at Seattle.