Eric Berry has a homecoming for the ages in Atlanta
Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) breaks the tackle of Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) after Berry made an interception during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Atlanta. Berry scored a touchdown on the play(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
ATLANTA (AP) After Eric Berry returned an interception for a touchdown late in the first half, he delivered the ball to his mom in the stands.
When Berry lined up to defend a 2-point conversion late in the game, he remembered some advice from his father, who played running back for the University of Tennessee.
''My dad always told me the most important point of the game is the extra point,'' Berry said. ''A lot of people take that play off. It's an opportunity to make something happen and I'm going to make the most of it.''
Article continues below ...
Berry stepped in to intercept Matt Ryan's pass and didn't stop running until he reached the end zone at the other end of the field, a 99-yard return that gave the Kansas City Chiefs two points and a 29-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
''Eric is the heart and soul of this team,'' quarterback Alex Smith said. ''The embodiment of what we're about, and that's selflessness and hard work, giving it up for the guy next to you. That's all Eric talks about and it's real. It's sincere. There's no phoniness about it. It's from the heart.''
Berry certainly approaches the game with a different mindset than most players.
Toward the end of the 2014 season, he began experiencing chest pain. A mass was found. In early December, he got the scary diagnosis: Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Berry, who grew up in suburban Atlanta, returned to the city for treatment that helped him beat the disease. That was not lost on him as he took the field at the Georgia Dome, playing in Atlanta for the first time in his pro career.
He shed plenty of tears – and stole the show.
The pick six came with 37 seconds remaining in the first half of a 13-13 game. Matt Ryan looked to connect with Taylor Gabriel over the middle, but Berry read it all the way. He stepped in front of the pass, spun away from would-be tackler Devonta Freeman and tip-toed down the sideline, managing to stay in bounds before one last long stride into the end zone.
''I was just reading my keys,'' Berry said. ''A lot of film study.''
He found his mom in the stands – wearing his No. 29 jersey – and made sure she got the ball.
''I just knew I was going to do it. I made up my mind before the game,'' Berry said. ''It won't amount to the things she's given me, and my dad too. So many nights I was just crying on their shoulder and trying to make sense of everything that was going on. They told me to keep pressing, keep pressing. You'll be back and be able to play the game the way you want to play the game.''
The Chiefs (9-3) stretched their lead to 27-16 before the Falcons rallied. Freeman scored on a 1-yard run with just under 12 minutes remaining. A 2-point try failed, but Atlanta got the ball back. Ryan scrambled for a key first down to keep the drive alive, and then hooked up with Aldrick Robinson on a 5-yard TD pass.
Now leading 28-27, the Falcons understandably went for 2 again, looking to extend their margin to a field goal. Berry could've gotten down after his team surrendered the go-ahead touchdown; instead, he buckled down.
Ryan never saw the safety.
''I've played for a long time, made a lot of really good plays and made some poor plays,'' Ryan said. ''That wasn't one of my best.''
For Berry, it couldn't have been any better.
He wasn't alone, either.
Former Georgia State receiver Albert Wilson, who played his college ball in this same stadium, had a 55-yard touchdown on a fake punt for the Chiefs. Former Georgia star Justin Houston had a sack. Another ex-Bulldog, Ramik Wilson, tied for the team lead with nine tackles.
''It was great to see our whole contingency from Georgia and from Atlanta come back home and make plays,'' Kansas City coach Andy Reid said. ''No one more than 29 did today. He was phenomenal.''
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .
For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL