Inside Slant: What Block in the Back?

Kansas City was still buzzing on Tuesday about Dante Hall's electrifying 93-yard punt return that provided the game-winning touchdown for a second straight week, this time against previously unbeaten Denver.

Yes everyone was talking about Hall's good living and blind officials. Still it didn't matter to any Chiefs fan that Hall got a tremendous boost -- a shove, actually -- from a rookie cornerback Julian Battle as Hall did his best Houdini-like escape from the seven Denver cover men who had a shot at him before finding daylight. Some had two shots at him.

Even coach Dick Vermeil acknowledged Tuesday after looking at the film again that Julian Battle got away with a push to the back of Denver gunner Chris Cole that opened the left corner for Hall.

"It's been called a clip (on similar plays)," Vermeil said. "On the side (camera) shot, you see it. It looks like (Cole) got hit completely in the back. In the end zone (view), you see he got part of the back and part of the shoulder.

"It's a judgment call. If I were (the Broncos), I'd want it called. But that happens. The way the kicking game is played now, you could call a penalty on every snap if you wanted to."

Give Battle credit, he got a 2-for-1 on his push. Cole, Hall's former Texas A&M teammate who predicted before the game that the Broncos would hold Hall in check, got knocked into a teammate, and the path suddenly was clear. That's what you get for calling out your former college teammate.

But aided by a clip or not, Hall's fourth touchdown return in a fourth straight game -- the first time in NFL history that's happened -- was an astonishing play. Especially when viewed in its historical context.

He becomes only the eighth player in league history to score four return TD's in a season, and the first since Denver's Rick Upchurch last did it in 1976. Told as recently as 2002 that his role as the Chiefs returner was not secure after two unproductive seasons, Hall now has a return TD in seven of his last 10 games.

"I'm really blessed right now in my life and in my football career," Hall said of his record run. "With God blessing me in combination with my teammates helping me, this is what you're getting."

Hall's elusiveness -- "He makes guys look stupid all the time in practice," noted special teamer Lyle West -- allowed him to turn a potential bad play into a game-winner.

Given that the Chiefs -- trailing 23-17 at the time -- were trying to block Micah Knorr's punt from midfield and did not have a return on, Hall probably shouldn't have tried to catch a punt inside his 10, much less retreat toward his own end zone after snaring it.

"That was a bobo move," Hall said. "They tell me to be smart on a return like that, and the first part of the return wasn't smart. I retreated back to the 5, then the 2. I got dumber and dumber and dumber."

Even his teammates, who say that nothing Hall does anymore surprises them, were stunned to see Hall emerge from the crowd of defenders.

"At first I thought, 'Oh (shoot), he's getting close to the end zone,' " said Mike Maslowski, who was trying to block the punt. "Next thing I'm thinking is, 'Oh (shoot), here he comes.' "

Maslowski had the easiest block in taking out Knorr, the last man between Hall and the longest punt return in Chiefs history.

Of course, that was after Battle got away with his block, one that will have Denver fans buzzing nearly as loud as the Kansas City faithful. Well, Denver can take solace that they fumbled the ball our times and three of them hit or were in the hands of Kansas City defenders before recovering their own fumbles.


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