Getting their kicks

Posted Feb 24, 2018

Special teams made big plays in 2017.

The first touchdown of the regular season _ a blocked punt and recovery in the end zone by linebacker Anthony Chickillo on Sept. 10 at Cleveland _ was scored by the Steelers’ special teams.

And the last touchdown of the regular season _ a 96-yard kickoff return by wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on Dec. 31 against the Browns_ came courtesy of the Steelers’ special teams.

In between, the Steelers’ special teams had a habit of kicking field goals that ultimately decided games.

In the kicking game, 2017 was nothing if not memorable.

Even when things went wrong, the Steelers’ special teams found a way to make it right.

Perhaps the best example of that occurred on Sept. 24 in Chicago, when tight end Vance McDonald chased down Bears cornerback Marcus Cooper after a 73-yard return of a blocked field goal and forced a fumble at the Steelers’ 1-yard line. Instead of a touchdown for the Bears, the play resulted in a touchback after punter Jordan Berry batted the ball out of the Steelers’ end zone.

The block in Chicago was one of three misses on 38 field goal attempts in what became a Pro Bowl season for Boswell.

Among the highlights:

-Franchise records for field goals made (35) and points (142) in a season.

-Game-winning kicks (field goals made within one minute of regulation) against Indianapolis, Green Bay and Baltimore, including two as time expired (against the Colts and Packers). Boswell also hit a field goal that provided a lead the Steelers never relinquished with 2:42 remaining at Cincinnati.

-A career-long 53-yard field goal at the fourth-quarter gun against Green Bay, the longest by a Steelers player at Heinz Field, the longest by an NFL player at the facility (tied) and the fourth-longest in Steelers’ history.

-Four field goals of 50-plus yards (on four attempts), the most in a season in Steelers’ history.

Chickillo’s touchdown in the opener was the Steelers’ first on a blocked punt since Oct. 26, 1998 at Kansas City (running back Fred McAfee).

Smith-Schuster’s kickoff return for a TD was the Steelers’ first since Sept. 19, 2010 (wide receiver Antonio Brown).