Jonathan Baldwin established his reputation for making the near-impossible catch last year with his around-the-defender grab of a pass against Denver.
He solidified it at Chiefs practice on Tuesday when he made a one-handed diving grab of a Matt Cassel pass for a touchdown over cornerback Stanford Routt. Baldwin’s ability to go up and get a pass has moved Cassel and other Chiefs quarterbacks to make a throw to Baldwin in one-on-one coverage when they might not make it to other receivers.
By now, they’re aware the 6-feet-4, 230-pound Baldwin has the size advantage over most cornerbacks and will win most jump ball situations.
“I’d like to think so,’’ Cassel said. “He’s guy that likes to go up and compete and there’s not a lot of corners in the league that can go up vertically with him.
“Guys like that, you have to give them an opportunity to make a play. He’s such a big target and he’s so physical that you just kind of have to put it in the vicinity and try not to overthrow him. Just give him an opportunity to go up and out-battle somebody for the ball.’’
In this case, it was Routt, who at 6-1 is tall for a cornerback. But he was no match for Baldwin on this particular play.
Routt, left alone with Baldwin down the sideline, wrestled with the bigger receiver as the ball was on its way and in a game probably would have been called for pass interference. He wound up pinning one of Baldwin’s arms against his body as the receiver reached for the pass.
Routt’s biggest mistake was in not pinning both of Baldwin’s arms. Baldwin made the catch one-handed and all Routt could do afterward was shake his head.
“It happens,’’ Routt said. “I’m not worried about it. It’s football. Sometimes you make the play and sometimes he makes the play.’’
The catch came with just seconds remaining in a two-minute drill near the end of practice and was the kind of thing the Chiefs envisioned when they made Baldwin their first-round draft pick last year.
“It was a two-minute situation and the coach is always talking about making plays,’’ Baldwin said. “I just had to step up and make a play.
“As receivers, we always want to go and make the play. I just want to make every play I possibly can. I was fortunate to make the play.’’
Cassel said, “The one against Denver was pretty impressive last year. But it was a great catch. Those are the kind of plays you need, especially in a two-minute drill.’’
In addition to his reception against the Broncos, which was erased by a penalty not involving Baldwin, the Chiefs got a taste of his knack for the big catch in a Monday night win over the Chargers. He went over San Diego cornerback Marcus Gilchrist to catch a 39-yard touchdown pass.
Otherwise, the Chiefs failed to use Baldwin to their advantage. That was his only touchdown as a rookie and the longest play among his 21 receptions.
But plays like the one in practice Tuesday suggest the Chiefs will try harder to find ways to get Baldwin matched up in single coverage.
“When you have a guy like Jon, there’s a bigger window,’’ reserve quarterback Ricky Stanzi said. “He’s a big body and he has great hands. You always want to put the ball right on him but you do have a better chance if you do miss for him to come up and make a play. He can make your mistakes look really good.’’
Routt now knows it as well as anyone. While with the Raiders last season, Routt played twice against Baldwin and the Chiefs but he had just two catches against Oakland, the longest being for 14 yards.
“It’s the same thing when you have to defend any tall receiver,’’ Routt said. “Obviously, (be aware of) the jump ball. Obviously, you’ve got to be a little more physical with him because he’s a bigger target.
“He uses his body pretty good. On that catch he did a pretty good job. I know last year, he was a rookie and he was young. But you can tell he’s definitely taken some strides since last year.’’