KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There were times the scrutiny and pressure of his first NFL season dimmed Skyy Moore’s smile.
The Kansas City Chiefs rookie wide receiver heard that chatter, saw the jokes and criticism on social media and internalized his struggles early in the season as a punt returner — a job he lost after by the bye week after a series of muffed punts and miscues.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to get a punt return again this season,” Moore said. “But I didn’t stop catching punts, so I was prepared for a moment like that and it paid off.”
Moore, a second-round pick from Western Michigan who didn’t return punts in college, was dropped to fourth — maybe even fifth — on the team’s depth chart, he said.
Fellow receivers Kadarius Toney, Mecole Hardman Jr. and Justin Watson are Kansas City’s top three returners, but Toney and Hardman left Sunday’s AFC Championship Game injured and Watson was inactive with an illness.
Moore said he thinks fellow rookie Trent McDuffie, a cornerback from Washington, is above him on the depth chart, too.
That meant the roster attrition pressed Moore into punt-return duty once again with a Super Bowl at stake.
“McDuffie doesn’t really catch punts in practice, so he’s just a name above,” Moore said. “I knew as soon as Mecole went down, it was going to be me.”
Rather than shrink from the moment, Moore rose to the occasion, including a 29-yard punt return in the closing minute to help set up the game-winning field goal.
Despite the struggles, Moore never gave up on practicing the position.
“I just really had to remind myself who I was and why I was here,” Moore said. “Just knowing I was doing something new, I was going to take my bumps and bruises, but I kept working at it.”
He also credits the unwavering confidence shown by his coaches, Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub and Assistant Special Teams Coach Andy Hill, for giving him the chops needed.
“First of all, Coach Toub and Coach Hill just believing in me and keep putting me back there — I’m dropping them and I don’t even feel comfortable back there — but they’re just telling me, ‘You’re going to be good; just do it’ every week,” Moore said. “That in itself just made me more confident as the weeks went on.”
It all paid off in arguably the biggest moment of the season for the Chiefs.
“Once I saw it was a line drive kick, I was like, ‘All right, I’m not going to fair catch it; I can catch it and do something with it,’” Moore said. “I couldn’t go back there with any doubt. I wasn’t thinking about dropping it at all.”
Moore averaged only 6.1 yards on 14 punts returns, none longer than 15 yards during the regular season, but his 29-yard return Sunday moved the ball from the Kansas City 18-yard line out to near midfield with 30 seconds left.
Tight end Travis Kelce gushed about Moore after the game, saying he “arguably makes the biggest play of the game on that punt return.”
Four plays later, Harrison Butker drilled a 45-yard field goal to deliver a 23-20 win.
“It felt great just coming up big for my team when they needed me,” Moore said. “Everything else didn’t matter. My team needed me at that moment to step up and get it done.”
Of course, a half-hour after the game, he still wasn’t sure it had sunk in that he’d be playing in a Super Bowl two weeks from now in Glendale, Arizona.
“I’ve got to get to the car first and see what my family’s talking about,” said Moore, who stashed his phone in the car during the game. “Maybe it will sink in a little later.”
A wide smile — one that seemed well-earned — flashed across Moore's face as he considered Super Bowl LVII on Feb. 12 against Philadelphia.