Tommy Townsend, in his third season with the Kansas City Chiefs, acknowledges that some recent individual accolades he has received have been significant.
Townsend was the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month in September. Then, in the last few weeks, he was named a first-team All-Pro as a punter and was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
“It’s definitely nice to be recognized at some point, especially in a position as a punter. It’s one of the less glorious positions, I would say,” Townsend said with a smile. “So that’s cool. It’s not as black and white as kicks, like, ‘Oh, you can do it. Good job. Good job.’ Sometimes we go unnoticed, but that’s okay. It’s part of the location. I accept it. But it’s definitely nice to be recognized for it.
What’s especially rewarding for Townsend is learning about the process it took to get here.
The 26-year-old says there are “a million things I could name” that he hoped to improve on last offseason. Most importantly, though, was correcting the problems with leg swing.
Townsend says, in the simplest terms, that he was looking to improve his angle of attack to the ball. This starts before the kick even takes place, as if a punter’s strides are too long before they make contact, the result can be your heel kicking your butt on the backswing.
“Basically, you don’t want that,” Townsend said.
There’s a fine line, though. Townsend still needs his kicking leg to recover a lot of extension as he tries to create a delay that generates the force needed to drive the ball down.
All these details came together this season. During the regular season, Townsend led the NFL in net punt average (45.6 yards) and was second in yards per punt (50.4).
“Obviously, I fixed those (issues) and fixed some things during the preseason,” Townsend said, “and I was able to fix that before the season.”
Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub was very pleased with Townsend’s improved consistency after the two discussed it before the season. The reliability continued in last week’s playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars as Townsend averaged 50.8 yards on four punts for a 45 net average.
“Game in and game out, it was amazing,” Toub said. “And he’s batting that ball up for us so we can get down there and cover.”
Townsend also made a change last week as he worked to ensure his holds were done correctly.
On a cold, wet day at Arrowhead Stadium, Townsend wore white gloves for his guarding duties. Townsend said he hasn’t done it recently after experiencing it during his rookie year two seasons ago.
Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker (7) celebrates a 50-yard field goal with keeper Tommy Townsend (5) against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 21 2023 in Kansas City, Mo.
Part of the purpose of gloves is protection. Townsend said that in particularly cold weather, soccer laces can “feel like razor blades” when caught on a shot at a field goal.
The humidity, however, added a different dimension to Townsend making the switch.
“I just wanted to wear them last game because it was raining and snowing and the ball was really smooth,” said Townsend. “And especially when the nose of the ball—when the ball is put down by the snapper—if the nose of the ball touches the paint, the wet paint on the ball makes the ball even more slippery. It looks like oil. So I put on my rain gloves just to get some extra touch on the ball.
Snaps and catches were no problem Saturday, as Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker went 3-for-3 on extra points and hit two 50-yard field goals.
The biggest game of the season, up to this point, looms Sunday when KC plays against Cincinnati in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead.
Townsend will go into the match confident in his scoring abilities, while being buoyed by a constant drive to improve.
“I worked a lot off the pitch, just trying to straighten my mind and trying to find a more relaxed approach. And I’d say I’ve been pretty successful doing that,” Townsend said. “So it’s just one of those things that I’m just trying to keep shooting.”