The last time Eric Berry returned to his hometown of Atlanta during the season, it had nothing to do with football. The Kansas City Chiefs safety had just received his cancer diagnosis, and returned home to begin chemotherapy near his family.
That makes Berry’s historic performance Sunday afternoon all the more meaningful, and all the more emotional in the wake of his team’s 29-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
“I shed a few tears before the game, I shed a few during the game, and I shed a few after,” Berry said. “I think I held it together pretty good, but it was a lot of emotions, so I just tried to contain them and let it show through my plays.”
Berry returned an interception for a touchdown just before halftime to give his team the lead. But his interception on an attempted two-point conversion and return for a defensive two-point score snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for the Chiefs, who simply keep finding new ways to win.
“Eric found a way at the end to seal the deal,” coach Andy Reid said.
The NFL implemented the rule allowing defenses to score two points on extra point attempts in 2015. Berry’s score marked the first time a defensive player scored a two-point conversion on an intercepted pass. The three previous defensive scores on conversion tries resulted from blocked kicks.
Following his 37-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first half, Berry headed toward the stands to hand his mother the ball and exchanged a kiss.
“I made my mind up before the game that I was going to give her the ball when I got it,” Berry said. “But I try to give her whatever. It won’t amount to the things she has given me, and my dad as well.”
The moment brought flashbacks for Berry back to a time when he wondered if he would ever play in the NFL again.
“There were so many nights that I would cry on their shoulder, trying to make sense of everything that was going on,” Berry said, “and they just kept telling to keep pressing on and that I would be back to play the game the way I want to play the game. “
Quarterback Alex Smith called Berry the team’s heart and soul.
“That’s selflessness, hard work, giving it up for the guy next to you,” Smith said. “That’s all Eric talks about and it’s real, it’s sincere, there is no phoniness about it, and it’s from the heart.
Berry wasn’t the only Chiefs player celebrating a homecoming in the Georgia Dome Sunday. Nearly a dozen Chiefs attended college or grew up in Georgia.
Indeed, the Chiefs also relied upon another scoring rarity from a player with Georgia ties. On the opening drive of the second half, the Chiefs faced a fourth-and-1 from the Chiefs 45-yard line. The Chiefs initially appeared ready to go for it, but the Falcons called timeout.
The Chiefs lined up in punt formation following the stoppage. Instead of kicking the ball away, Albert Wilson took a direct snap from James Winchester and raced through a gap up the middle, toting the ball 55 yards for a touchdown. That marked the first run for a touchdown on fake punt since the Jacksonville Jaguars pulled off the trick in 2008.
Wilson, who attended college at Georgia State, said the Chiefs installed the fake punt play this week especially for the Falcons.
“We had it up all week and when I saw the call I had no hesitation that I was going to go with it,” Wilson said. “My guys up front did a great job like they have been doing with it all week [in practice] and we came out with a touchdown.”
Reid credited special teams coordinator Dave Toub for the gutsy call.
“The players that executed the play worked on it all week,” Reid said. “He felt it there and gave me the secret nod on it and put it on and went with it.”
The Chiefs have s short turnaround, coming home to host the Oakland Raiders Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
Tight end Travis Kelce, who hauled in eight catches for a career-high 140 yards against the Falcons, said Reid stressed there’s no time to bask in the glow of another dramatic win.
“It’s a short week,” Kelce said. “Enjoy it, but you know that when we get the win on Thursday it’ll be that much better.”