Anatomy of a Play: Holmes' punt return changes Steelers' fortunes

Mike Tomlin knew Chargers punter Mike Scifres had a big leg, but the Steelers' coach had a plan.

One week earlier, Tomlin had watched Scifres repeatedly pin the Colts deep in an AFC Wild-Card Game. But Tomlin also noticed that Scifres' stratospheric punts could be used against the Chargers on special teams. So early last week, Tomlin implemented a neutralizing strategy for his punt-return team.

Anatomy of a Play

"As we put our plan together, we were intent on trying to use their great punting to our advantage by setting up a return," Tomlin said.

Last Sunday, with eight minutes to play in the first quarter and his team trailing by seven points, Tomlin put his plan into action.

Facing fourth down at their 14-yard line, the Chargers looked to flip the field position. Out trotted Scifres, who launched a 53-yard moon shot. The kick drove Santonio Holmes back to his 33, where he fielded the ball cleanly on the fly.

With no defenders in sight, Holmes cut inside and shook off an unbalanced tackle by Chargers LB Brandon Siler. Finding little resistance, Holmes then cut left and accelerated up the sideline past a diving Scifres. As he neared the end zone, Holmes showed patience and athleticism as he downshifted to hurdle a last-ditch tackle attempt by WR Legedu Naanee. The 67-yard jaunt ended as Holmes crossed the goal line for a touchdown that tied the score at 7.

On the Anatomy of a Play, we'll break down how Scifres' deep kick proved to be a detriment to the Chargers' coverage unit. NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell will illustrate how the deep ball allowed Holmes to forego a fair catch and provided extra time for the returner to react to the Chargers' on-coming rush. We'll also look deeper to see how Steelers RB Carey Davis' downfield blocking on Chargers LB Tim Dobbins was critical to the play's success.

In the end, the longest punt return in Steelers postseason history did more than put Holmes in the record books. It stole momentum from the visiting Chargers, who never fully recovered and lost the game.

"It sparked the team at that point," Holmes said, "The guys were asking me to get this game going with a punt return. ... For me, the opportunity presented itself, and I was just trying to get to the end zone as fast as possible."

Said Steelers LB James Harrison: "It jump-started us."

Tomlin agreed, but he wasn't surprised. After all, he knew his plan would work.

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