Hall's returns give Chiefs a kick-start

ON THE NFL

Nfl Week 6

October 12, 2003|By KEN MURRAY

The phenomenon of Dante Hall's kick returns will put Josh Bidwell, Ryan Longwell and John Bonamego on the hot seat today at Green Bay.

If Hall launches another game-winning touchdown return, somebody on the Packers will be blamed. It might be the punter (Bidwell), the kicker (Longwell) or the special teams coach (Bonamego).

If he doesn't, the most tantalizing streak in recent NFL seasons will end and the Kansas City Chiefs might not escape Lambeau Field still unbeaten.

Hall, a fifth-round draft pick in 2000, has become the story within the story of the Chiefs' ascension. Without him, they probably are 2-3. With him, they are 5-0 and surprising Super Bowl front-runners.

The quick recap: Hall has returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown in a league record four straight games. He has a touchdown return in seven of his past 10 games. His 93-yard punt return beat Denver last week, and his 97-yard kickoff return beat the Ravens the week before.

His next return touchdown will break the NFL record for combined touchdown returns in one season. And Dick Vermeil, the Chiefs' coach, predicts he will do it.

"I think it will happen again, and that time, it will be a real record," Vermeil said. "It's no fluke. It's not by accident. I'm not a prophet, but I know talent, and I know the attitude and what the coaches are doing."

In this case, the matchup of the day pits Bonamego against Frank Gansz Jr., who has pedigree because his father also coached special teams in the NFL. The question is whether Bonamego will kick to Hall. All week, TV analysts have been screaming that he can't.

But the Ravens nearly got away with it in Baltimore. Their coverage teams were exceptional in a Week 4 loss, until Hall took a do-over of a kickoff back the other way. Last week against the Broncos, he was a whirling dervish. He fielded a punt at his 7-yard line, reversed direction several times, retreated to the 2, and finally got outside containment. The Chiefs clipped on the play, but it wasn't called.

Vermeil does know talent, and he has made the 5-foot-8, 187-pound Hall a special project. The Chiefs have used him in their three- and four-receiver packages. He has delivered nine catches for 76 yards and 10 reverses for 65 more. Still, the pressure of the streak is mounting.

"I was thinking all week about how everyone expects me to do something," Hall said after the Denver game. "That made me feel a little uncomfortable. I kept thinking I should stay within myself and not try to do something special."

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Counting the cost

The clock is running on San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, whose team has lost nine games in a row and 12 of its past 14. The Chargers are the only 0-5 team in the league. General manager A.J. Smith said last week there will not be a coaching change before the season ends, but he made it clear there will be a price to pay for such dismal failure.

"I know the coaches are trying very, very hard to prepare the football team, but obviously something is not right," Smith said. "We just can't seem to transfer it over to the football field. We're making too many mistakes. The confidence level is down, and you get confidence by victories, I know that."

After Schottenheimer stripped the team of defensive mainstays Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison in the offseason, his defense has been vulnerable to big plays. The Chargers have given up 28 plays of 20 or more yards, including 21 pass plays.

Manning's payback

If you wait long enough, things sometimes balance out in football. When Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning erased a 21-point deficit in the final four minutes and won in overtime against Tampa Bay on Monday night, it balanced the family scale.

The flip side of Manning's miracle was his father's debacle in 1980. As quarterback of the 0-13 New Orleans Saints, Archie Manning took a 35-7 halftime lead against San Francisco. But the 49ers got two touchdowns in the third quarter and two more in the fourth to force overtime, where they finally won.

The score of both games was 38-35.

McNabb's decline

Donovan McNabb's slump continues. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles ranks 14th in NFC passer efficiency, 15th in completion percentage (.504) and 15th in average yardage per attempt (4.71). He hasn't thrown a touchdown pass to a receiver in four games and has just one on the season. Most telling, he's struggled against man coverage.

"I'm not putting the ball in position where guys can react," he said. "I don't think it's a problem we can't solve."

They better solve it quickly because McNabb will see a lot of man coverage today against the Dallas Cowboys. And a loss in Dallas would leave the Eagles two games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East.

A. Johnson's impact

Receiver Andre Johnson has made a major impact on the Houston Texans' passing game this season with 26 catches for 346 yards and two scores. Texans quarterback David Carr hasn't been shy about going to Johnson, either.

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