KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was almost like adding injury to insult when Chiefs tight end Anthony Fasano banged his head off the turf so hard that he sustained a concussion a split-second after dropping a pass.
He wasn’t the only one who let the ball slip through his fingers last Sunday.
The Chiefs have finally started to put up some offense the last three weeks, but an epidemic of bobbled balls and dastardly drops has kept them from putting more points on the board — maybe even kept them from becoming the first NFL team to start 9-0 and then lose three straight.
“I’m always going to try to make sure we get the guys in the right position. The guys when they’re in that position, they have to make the play,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
“If drops are part of that,” Reid said, “you go back and you just focus, make sure you’re looking at the ball all the way in. You go back to fundamentals. When things aren’t going your way as a player or a coach, you go back to focusing in on the small things.”
After all, catching the football is something that’s usually learned in grade school.
Take it easy on Fasano, though. His drop in the open field on what would have been a lengthy gain against Denver came after he made a couple nice catches earlier in the game.
Donnie Avery finished with two catches for 17 yards, or about a third of what he should have had in the game. His two egregious drops came in the Chiefs’ final two series, as they were trying to rally. Both times, his teammates managed to convert first downs later in the drive, but the missed catches may have cost Kansas City some precious time.
A.J. Jenkins also had a drop against the Broncos. Dexter McCluster and Dwayne Bowe — he of the five-year, $56 million contract — also have put balls on the ground in recent weeks.
“There’s been some plays that we didn’t make and, you know, you just have to overcome those,” said wide receiver Junior Hemingway, whose playing time has increased in part because he hasn’t been dropping passes. “That’s basically what it comes down to.”
Sounds easy enough. It’s been painfully difficult for the Chiefs.
The website SportingCharts.com tracks the number of times an “intended receiver touches the ball but fails to catch it.” Heading into this weekend’s games, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles is tied with the Dolphins’ Davone Bess for the second-most drops in the NFL with eight in 87 targets. (Cecil Shorts III of Jacksonville is first with nine drops in 117 targets.)
Avery has dropped five passes this year, according to the website, and that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Pro Football Focus found that the free-agent acquisition dropped 12 passes last season – and made just 60 catches – resulting in a drop rate that tied his then-Colts teammate T.Y. Hilton for the highest mark in the NFL.
It’s notoriously difficult to track dropped passes, though.
How do you decide what should have been caught, and how do you balance that against an absurdly difficult catch that was actually made? How much blame should be put on the quarterback for passes that don’t hit a wide receiver in stride or that are thrown into tight coverage?
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith shouldered some of the burden for the recent spate of drops.
“Those things are going to happen. It’s my job to keep throwing them,” he said. “I certainly missed my fair share as well. That’s the nature of the passing game. You’re striving for perfection. You’d like to hit every one, but that’s not going to happen.”
Chiefs tight end Sean McGrath said the biggest frustration with dropped passes is finding a solution to them. You can spend precious practice time on fundamentals — throwing and catching the ball — but it’s hard to replicate the timing and pressure of a game situation.
“There’s got to be an extra push, an extra emphasis on concentration,” McGrath said. “You have to secure the catch, and make sure that gets done before anything else, before any up-yard movement. We have to secure the catch because the ball is the most important thing.
“As long as you’re taking care of that,” he said, “good things can happen.”