Kickoff and punt returns can be some of the most exciting plays in football. The NFL has de-emphasized kickoffs due to injury concerns. I will not be surprised if the NFL legislates the end of kickoffs within my lifetime but hope that I am wrong. Punting remains a key factor and the tide of a game can turn with a blocked punt or big return.
Here are two charts showing all the kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns scored by the Steelers since they joined the league. I have gleaned these statistics from the touchdown logs for each Steelers season in the Pro Football Reference.
Steelers Kickoff Return TD’s
|1937||5-Sep||John “Blood” McNally||PC||Eagles||92||Steelers take 21-14 lead||W 27-14|
|1942||20-Sep||Bill Dudley||TB||Redskins||84||tied game 7-7||L 14-28|
|1952||12-Oct||Lynn Chandnois||RH||Eagles||93||Put Steelers up 7-6||L 21-26|
|1952||30-Nov||Lynn Chandnois||RH||Giants||91||Put Steelers up 7-0||W 63-7|
|1953||3-Oct||Lynn Chandnois||RH||Giants||93||ties game 7-7||W 24-14|
|1957||13-Oct||Billy Wells||PR||Cardinals||96||extends Steelers lead 12-3||W 29-20|
|1963||17-Nov||Gary Ballman||FL||Redskins||92||4th quarter game winner 34-28||W 34-28|
|1966||30-Oct||Cannonball Butler||FB||Cowboys||93||Steelers down 14-24 at half||L 21-52|
|1969||23-Nov||Don McCall||RB||Vikings||101||Brings Steelers within 3: 7-10||L 14-52|
|1975||26-Oct||Mike Collier||RB||Packers||94||Gives Steelers 10-6 lead||W 16-13|
|1978||15-Oct||Larry Anderson||KR||Browns||95||Puts Steelers in front 13-7||W 34-14|
|1988||4-Dec||Dwight Stone||WR||Oilers||92||Gives Steelers 10-3 lead||W 37-34|
|1988||9-Oct||Rod Woodson||DB||Cardinals||92||Ties Game 7-7||L 14-31|
|1989||19-Nov||Rod Woodson||DB||Chargers||84||Puts Steelers ahead 13-10||W 20-17|
|1996||3-Nov||Erric Pegram||RB||Rams||91||Extends lead to 28-6||W 42-6|
|1997||5-Oct||Will Blackwell||WR||Ravens||97||Opens 2nd half scoring binge 14-24||W 42-34|
|2000||24-Dec||Will Blackwell||WR||Chargers||98||Ties Game 7-7||W 34-21|
|2002||13-Oct||Antwaan Randel El||PR||Bengals||99||Puts Steelers to 31-0||W 34-7|
|2007||23-Sep||Allen Rossum||KR||49ers||98||Puts Steelers ahead 7-3||W 37-16|
|2010||19-Sep||Antonio Brown||WR||Titans||89||Opens game with Steelers up 7-0||W 19-11|
|2017||31-Dec||JuJu Smith-Schuster||WR||Browns||96||Breaks 21-21 tie up 28-21||W 28-24|
Good Record when the Steelers score on kickoffs
The Steelers have used a mix of starting players and return specialists over the years. The last two touchdowns scored off a kickoff were by Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster early in their career. Mike Tomlin removed them from kickoff return duties as their role on the offense increased.
The Steelers record is 16-5 in games they score on the kickoff. It is difficult to determine whether there is a direct correlation or if it is coincidental. The Steelers manage a winning record in games their opponents return kickoffs for touchdowns. Currently, they are 18-15 in such games. In 2009, the Steelers special team gave up four touchdowns on kickoffs in one season. Mike Tomlin let Bob Ligashesky, his first special team coordinator, go after that season.
Steelers Punt Return TD’s
|1935||13-Sep||Dave Ribble||Eagles||Unk||blocked punt return up 14-7||W 17-7|
|1942||1-Nov||Curt Sandig||HB||Giants||64||Steelers go ahead 7-3||W 17-9|
|1951||18-Nov||Ray Mathews||LH||Redskins||68||Steelers lead 7-6||L 7-22|
|1952||26-Oct||Ray Mathews||LH||Cardinals||70||Extends lead to 13-0||W 34-28|
|1952||2-Nov||Ray Mathews||LH||Redskins||70||Steelers go up 17-7||W 24-23|
|1952||30-Nov||George Hays||DE||Giants||3||blocked punt return up 49-7||W 63-7|
|1961||26-Nov||Johnny Sample||CB||Cardinals||55||Steelers go ahead 20-13||W 30-27|
|1966||13-Nov||Andy Russell||LB||Cardinals||14||Steelers lead 10-9 on blocked punt||W 30-9|
|1968||10-Nov||Roy Jefferson||WR||Cardinals||80||Steelers up early 14-0||T 28-28|
|1971||26-Sep||Jon Staggers||WR||Bengals||67||Steelers take 14-10 lead||W 21-10|
|1974||25-Nov||Lynn Swann||WR||Saints||64||Steelers extend lead to 21-0||W 28-7|
|1984||19-Nov||Louis Lipps||WR||Saints||76||Steelers up early 7-3||L 24-27|
|1985||27-Oct||Louis Lipps||WR||Bengals||62||Steelers still down 14-26||L 21-26|
|1985||10-Nov||Louis Lipps||WR||Chiefs||71||Steelers take 20-14 lead||W 36-28|
|1990||16-Sep||Rod Woodson||CB||Oilers||52||Steelers 4th qtr. score 20-9||W 20-9|
|1991||15-Sep||Ernie Mills||WR||Patriots||0||Recovered in end zone||W 20-6|
|1992||25-Oct||Rod Woodson||CB||Chiefs||80||Opening score up 7-0||W 27-3|
|1995||10-Sep||Andre Hastings||WR||Oilers||72||Opening score up 7-0||W 34-17|
|2000||16-Dec||Hank Poteat||DB||Redskins||53||Breaks tie up 10-3||W 24-3|
|2003||26-Oct||Antwaan Randel El||PR||Rams||84||Ties game 7-7||L 21-33|
|2003||9-Nov||Antwaan Randel El||PR||Cardinals||52||extends lead to 28-3||W 28-15|
|2005||16-Oct||Antwaan Randel El||PR||Jaguars||72||Steelers go ahead 14-7||L 17-23|
|2005||1-Jan||Antwaan Randel El||PR||Lions||81||Opening score up 7-0||W 35-21|
|2006||17-Dec||Santonio Holmes||WR||Panthers||65||Steelers go up 34-3||W 37-3|
|2011||4-Dec||Antonio Brown||WR||Bengals||60||Extends lead to 28-7||W 35-7|
|2013||15-Dec||Antonio Brown||WR||Bengals||67||Extends lead to 21-0||W 30-20|
|2014||28-Dec||Antonio Brown||WR||Bengals||71||Opening score up 7-0||W 27-17|
|2015||6-Dec||Antonio Brown||WR||Colts||71||Final score 45-10||W 45-10|
|2019||8-Dec||Diontae Johnson||WR||Cardinals||85||Steelers go up 10-0||W 23-17|
Steelers Return TD’s
Collecting data on punt returns was difficult since statisticians counted some blocked punts resulting in touchdowns as returns but not others. I have included both clean returns and touchdowns resulting from blocked or botched punts but there may be a couple I missed.
The Steelers have an impressive 23-5-1 record when scoring off an opponent’s punt. Conversely, the Steelers are an abysmal 5-33 when their opponents score off the Steelers punting unit.
Since Mike Tomlin took the coaching reins in 2007, the Steelers have scored on three kickoffs and five punt returns. Opponents have scored seven kickoff and just three punt returns for touchdowns. Historically, the Steelers have scored 50 touchdowns on returns but their opponents 72 times (33 kickoffs and 39 punts).
Although I cannot draw a direct correlation the record speaks for itself. Many folks believe that punt returning duties should not be given to star players because they may get hurt. On the other hand, receivers still run plays over the middle where a linebacker can lay some good hits on them. I prefer that the best available returner be used in punt return situations. Gives best chance to score or at least reverse the field of play with a good return. But then that is why I’m just an average Steelers fan and not an NFL head coach. Here We Go.
I always like to include some music. Here is Only the Strong Survive by the Iceman himself Jerry Butler.