KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Mecole Hardman trudged to the sideline as the Bills trotted onto the field, then slumped onto the bench and tossed a huge Kansas City Chiefs coat over his head like a shroud as Buffalo took advantage of his fumbled punt for an easy touchdown.
It was an enormous mistake in the opening minutes of the AFC championship game on Sunday, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid could have easily given his young wide receiver the cold shoulder. Reid could have sent someone else back to field punts the rest of the game, or directed plays designed with Hardman in mind to his plethora of other playmakers.
Instead, the old coach went right back to him.
He had Patrick Mahomes throw a pass to Hardman two plays later, then capped the ensuing 80-yard drive by scripting an inside screen play for him that went for a touchdown. And when the Chiefs got the ball back again, the first play Reid called was an end-around that went for 50 yards, setting up another touchdown that gave Kansas City a 14-9 lead.
“They're going to be with me. They're going to keep me up, keep me motivated — make sure I don't have my head down,” Hardman said. “I was still mentally intact, but it's good the coaches still have confidence in you, call some plays for you to make some plays in the game. And the type of player I am, I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity I get.”
The Chiefs never trailed again in a 38-24 victory that sent the defending champions back to the Super Bowl.
It's not the first time that Reid has stuck with a struggling player. Whether it's a quarterback that throws an interception or a wide receiver that drops a pass, chances are good that Reid will call specific plays to get them right back in the game.
Want another example? Think back to Sept. 8, 2017, when Kareem Hunt fumbled on his very first NFL carry.