During the Kansas City Chiefs’ 31-13 defeat of the Washington Football Team on Sunday, Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman drew the ire of some fans for making a fair catch on a punt at his own 4-yard line.
But according to Kansas City special teams coordinator Dave Toub, Hardman was doing exactly what he had been coached to do — except for one thing.
“I think he didn’t read the ball right,” Toub told reporters on Thursday. “You know, it was a spiral kick. A spiral kick at [the] 5-yard line, you want to let that go, because it will bounce into the end zone — probably 7 out of 10 times.”
But Toub said that Hardman thought it was a “rugby kick.”
“You kick it on the bottom and it goes end-over-end like this,” he explained with a gesture. “And it has a tendency to hit and come back. That’s what everybody’s doing most of the time.”
In other words, Hardman’s missed read made him think that the correct move was to catch the ball. Otherwise, it could have bounced back, allowing Washington to down the kick — or even worse, recover it close to the Kansas City goal line if a Chiefs player touched it first. That’s the reason punters generally try for rugby kicks.
“In that particular kick,” added Toub, “he kicked a spiral — a normal open-field kick that turns over — and that kind of kick, you want that to hit [the ground], because it will bounce [towards the end zone]. [Hardman] just made a bad read on what type of kick it was.”
But even then, Toub wasn’t willing to throw Hardman under the bus for misreading the punt. He said that in all his years of coaching, he’d never encountered a punt returner who could correctly read the ball in flight every time — simply because it’s hard to do.
“You’ve got guys running down the field, you’ve got to make a read, see if guys are close to you,” he explained. “Can you field it? Can you fair-catch it? A lot of decisions have to be made. So you’ve got to give them a little bit of leeway a lot of times. That was just one that I’m sure [Hardman] would want to take back.”
Besides... Hardman also made two excellent punt returns during Sunday’s game — one in the second quarter for 31 yards to the Washington 41-yard line, plus a third-quarter return for 25 yards that put the team at the Washington 45 after punter Tress Way was penalized for making an illegal tackle on Hardman.
The Chiefs scored on both drives — and Toub said that the plays themselves lit up the Kansas City sideline.
“Arguably, both of them could have gone for a touchdown — but didn’t,” he said. “But they were nice returns and set up our offense. That just lifts everybody up. It makes us feel like, ‘This is what we are.’ That’s what it felt like. ’OK... now we’re OK. We got the return game going, the offense is going,’ and everybody goes.
“That’s the way we like to look at it. It felt right in the second half.”