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Danny Smith gave Emmanuel Sanders green light to return kick

Emmanuel Sanders has proven his value as a kick returner, both this season and last season. While he didn't get the touchdown he thought he did, it sparked the Steelers' offense, and could be a weapon they use more in the future.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders took one special teams snap in Pittsburgh's 19-16 win over Baltimore.

He took that snap in the form of a kickoff return, and proceeded to bring it back to the other end zone. He stepped out of bounds in the process, but it electrified a team needing points on its final drive to score a victory over their AFC North foe.

It was reminiscent to the punt return Sanders had against the Giants in Week 9 of 2012. He took that back 63 yards, but the Steelers walked away from the possession with no points, as a fake field goal attempt was stuffed.

This time, they saw it all the way through to the points. And special teams coach Danny Smith gave Sanders permission to make something happen.

Post-Gazette reporter Ray Fittipaldo wrote Sanders asked for, and received, Smith's blessing to bring the ball out of the end zone, regardless of where it was. That's an enormous amount of faith in Sanders - who isn't the team's regular kickoff returner, although that may change now.

In fairness to regular returner Felix Jones, he had a nice return as well in an all-around strong performance from the Steelers' special teams. Keep in mind, the Ravens defeated the Steelers last year in Pittsburgh on the strength of a punt return touchdown by Jacoby Jones. Baltimore's offense did not score a touchdown in their 13-10 win.

Sanders saw the situation, and he took advantage of it.

"Nothing was going to stop me from bringing that ball out unless he kicked it out," Sanders said, as quoted by Fittipaldo. "I had it in my mind that I was going to return it. I had a good feeling about it."

Indeed he did. Officials met to collectively determine he stepped out of bound, although it's hard to tell whether his heel was on the line or merely above it. A player sprinting down the field at the speed Sanders was moving don't often have their heel on the ground, but either way, the explosive play seemed to give the Steelers' offense a shot of confidence.

Fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown made two big catches, helping to set up Shaun Suisham's game-winning 42-yard field goal as time expired.

Good things happen when players are aggressive.

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