Despite an early mistake from Mecole Hardman, Andy Reid stuck with him, and his unwavering support of his players paid off again in the AFC Championship.
Mecole Hardman goes by the nickname “The Jet” for his game-breaking speed and tremendous skills after the catch. Since being drafted, Hardman has been at the center of some of the biggest plays for the Chiefs offense and special teams. It was Mecole Hardman’s 58-yard kick off return that started a 51-7 scoring run in the AFC Divisional game last postseason against the Texans.
He has come up with some huge back-breaking plays against some of Kansas City’s strongest opponents. Despite all of this, Mecole Hardman’s name seems to live more in infamy among Chiefs fans rather than fame. Hardman has been terrifying on punt returns all season long and has had some key drops and fumbles in his two years as a Chief. Though he may be as fast as a jet, Hardman at times can feel more like a $5 scratcher bought at Quick Trip – boom or bust.
Part of fans’ frustration with Hardman begins with the investment that was placed in him. In 2019, when rumors were swirling about Tyreek Hill’s personal life and incriminating audio was released the night of the draft; Chiefs’ general manager Brett Veach traded up to pick 56 to select Hardman. The post-draft analysis was that the organization drafted Tyreek Hill insurance in case he was lost for an extended period of time.
The combination of being the team’s top pick in the draft and instantly being compared to Tyreek Hill set up Mecole Hardman for disappointment by the fans. Hardman has a way of ripping your heart out with a terrible mental lapse and then making your heart beat out of your chest by making a huge play. This phenomenon can be described as the “Mecole Hardman experience.”
There have been several games this season that has given us the full experience, one of which was the Dolphins game. Mecole Hardman broke his first punt return for a touchdown by going 67 yards to the house in the third quarter. On the next drive, he took a short pass across the middle for 26 yards and fumbles the ball away to the Dolphins. This is known as the “reverse Mecole Hardman experience,” which has similar symptoms but can be even more painful for fans.
The AFC Championship was a traditional experience, but what should not be forgotten is Andy Reid making it happen. Coach Reid’s confidence in his players and standing by them is part of what makes him one of the best coaches in the league.
Things were looking up for the Chiefs. They held the dynamic Bills offense to a field goal on their first possession and then forced a punt the following possession. With an offense like the Bills, this is a major victory for the defense. What the defense was not ready for was first and goal from the three-yard line.
Hardman muffed another punt in embarrassing fashion that directly handed the Bills a touchdown. “This isn’t an offense you can fall behind to.” The narratives repeated all week by the media fanning the Bills mafia flame began swirling in Chiefs fans’ heads.
Hardman walked off the field, sat on the bench, and threw his jacket over his head similar to a toddler being put in time out. Several players walked over to him to console him, Big Red himself walked over to talk to Hardman as well. Coach Reid was not going to let that be the last play for Hardman that night.
In another game without Sammy Watkins, Andy knew he would need Mecole to make big plays. After the muffed punt Andy called a designed screen pass for Mecole Hardman that went for a single yard. The play seemed fairly insignificant in the script of the game but it let Hardman know that he wasn’t finished for the night and that he still had the trust of his quarterback and head coach.
Once in the red zone, Reid dialed up another screen that helped Hardman find the end zone. The next offensive play for the Chiefs featured a 50-yard rush designed off a jet sweep for Hardman, putting them in field goal range and fully completing the Mecole Hardman experience.
If Andy Reid was a classic “gritty” coach that punished players for poor mistakes and ridicules them, Hardman never makes these big plays. Having the patience and courage to feed Mecole after his bad play and to continue to put him on punt returns is part of what makes Andy great.
Now Mecole has confidence in himself heading into the NFL’s brightest stage. Mecole Hardman may never be better than some of the other wide receivers that were taken around him in the draft ( AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, and Terry McLaurin) but he is a perfect piece for the Andy Reid offense and is another piece to the championship puzzle in Kansas City.