When special teams become not just ordinary but inept, teams lose.
The worst performances were turned in by the Chargers at Foxborough. The Patriots seemed ripe for a third loss at home. LA made sure that didn’t happen by botching punt returns and field goal attempts.
Most damaging — and somewhat comical — was how Travis Benjamin treated a second-quarter punt. Normally pretty good at the chore, Benjamin muffed a punt at the sideline. Rather than dive on it at the 8, he scooped it up and headed toward the other sideline. On a backward angle.
When the coverage team caught him, he was in front of the Chargers’ end zone. He stutter-stepped back and was nailed for a safety.
“Last week, he made a play on a punt return to help us win the game (against Denver). This week he made a bad decision,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “That was a huge play in the game. You have to have some awareness of where you are on the football field. And he did not.”
It didn’t get much better.
The Chargers also missed a field goal, gave up a 71-yard kickoff return to Dion Lewis and were so bad on their own kickoff runbacks that they rarely got near their 20.
Finally, down by five, they forced the Patriots to punt, but committed two penalties on the return.
“We were off our flow,” running back/kick returner Austin Ekeler said. “We weren’t as coordinated as well as we were last week, so we just started taking a knee in the end zone and taking the secure route. It wasn’t acceptable.”
Nor was it acceptable in the Meadowlands, where the Jets had an excellent chance in a driving rain to upend the Falcons. But their special teams flopped, too.
The Jets led 7-0 and recovered a botched snap by Matt Ryan. But Chandler Catanzaro missed a 46-yard field goal.
Catanzaro would miss again in the fourth quarter. Both times, Ryan threw for touchdowns on the next series.
“There’s no excuse,” said Catanzaro, although kicking in a maelstrom might qualify. “My teammates are counting on me to put it through the two yellow pipes, and I didn’t do that today.”
New York, like LA, also was done in by an inability to field a punt. And, like Benjamin of the Bolts, Jeremy Kerley has been reliable throughout his career.
But his ill-advised decision to field a kick over his shoulder at his 15 set up Atlanta’s final field goal in a 25-20 victory.
“You’ve got a job of trying to catch the ball and make a play,” Kerley said. “I’m always trying to do something and make a play. It just so happens to put the team in a bad situation. It definitely changed the momentum.”
Oakland’s Jalen Richard fumbled a punt return in a 34-14 loss at Buffalo. No, that wasn’t a decisive play, but it was indicative of how the Raiders’ day was going: nothing special.
Washington’s new kicker Nick Rose had a field goal blocked and missed an extra point in a 33-19 loss in the slop against Dallas.
Tyrone Crawford’s block might not have been Rose’s fault because the snap was low. Orlando Scandrick then returned the ball to the Washington 4, setting up a Dallas TD.
The failed extra point doesn’t look so damaging, perhaps, except that it came when the Redskins could have pulled within six points. When they got the ball back, Kirk Cousins threw a pick-6.
Not all the special teams blunders were harmful.
It’s a measure of how well things are going for the Eagles that Jake Elliott could miss two extra points. Still, the team with the NFL’s best record at 7-1 routed San Francisco 33-10.
Of course, Elliott also hit a 51-yard field goal and has made 5 of 6 from 50 or beyond.
Now that’s special.
AP Sports Writers Dennis Waszak Jr., Tom Canavan and Jimmy Golen contributed.