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Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman bounces back after fumbled punt vs. Bills

Updated February 5, 2021 - 2:34 pm

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman didn’t have much time to fret. Sure, he had muffed a punt in the AFC championship game, setting up a Buffalo Bills’ score.

But the Chiefs would need him later in the game.

Like, right away.

“A lot of players have their ups and downs, it’s just part of the game,” Hardman said. “As a player, you want to do your best to get back in the rhythm of things. Whether that’s catch another pass or score a touchdown.”

Or both. Like Hardman did. On the next drive.

The Chiefs showed their faith in Hardman by continuing to feature him against the Bills. Even after his costly mistake. They’ll continue to show their faith in him Sunday in the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, affirming that the second-year wide receiver will be their primary punt returner.

Just like he’s been all season.

“Mecole is our guy. He made a mistake last week, and it happens. … You can’t just take all of the work that he’s done in the past and throw it away because he’s made a mistake,” Kansas City special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “He’s going to bounce back in a big way, and he’s going to make some big plays for us. … We haven’t lost confidence in him.”

A special specialist

Hardman never has been one to lament a mistake for long. Not now. Not as a college receiver and return specialist at Georgia. He hails from Bowman, Georgia, a town of less than 900 where he blossomed into one of the country’s top wide receiver recruits.

But he made his mark on special teams with the Bulldogs, for whom he debuted in 2017. He returned kicks and punts and was also a gunner on punt coverage, using his blistering speed — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds — to make plays on all three units.

“When you start dealing with punt returners, you have ones that want to go out and catch punts after or before practice because they want to do what the coaches ask them to do,” said Scott Fountain, his special teams coach at Georgia. “Mecole is one of the guys who might be finished fielding punts, but he wants to stay out and catch five more. He was a guy that was always willing to go above and beyond.”

Hardman led the NCAA in yards per punt return during his junior year of 2018, logging 20.1 and scoring once. He also caught 35 passes for 543 yards and seven touchdowns. The Chiefs selected him in the second round of the 2019 draft.

As a rookie, Hardman had 538 receiving yards, six touchdown receptions and a kick return touchdown, showcasing his speed and versatility. He returned a punt for a touchdown this season and added 560 receiving yards and four TD catches.

He’s ready to make a difference Sunday as a returner or a receiver. His misstep against the Bills is a thing of the past.

“My role is to be the type of guy to take advantage when the opportunity presents itself,” Hardman said. “Anytime I get the chance to make somebody pay, that’s what I’m going to do. This game included. If I get a chance to make them pay, I’m going to make them pay and go from there. The confidence is still there.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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