After being in the Week 9 matchup for 48% of the defensive snaps — substantially less than his usual 75-85% range — Hitchens said on Friday that he’s ready to take on the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday Night Football.
“I feel good,” he told reporters. “I worked with our trainers to get that right; I just had a little bit of nerve damage [in my] tricep. Felt good last week — got through the game healthy, staying on my strengthening part of it — but I mean, no one’s 100% healthy at this time of year. [I’m] just working at it, getting better and should be good to roll this week.”
Unlike most players who have missed a couple of games, Hitchens had some unfinished off-the-field business with reporters: his social media post that ultimately led to teammate Tyrann Mathieu characterizing the Chiefs’ fan base as “toxic.”
“I think it was just a lot going on at the time,” said Hitchens of the incident. “To be honest, I have no comment on it. It’s not really about the Raiders or us winning going forward. Really... no comment about it.”
Although he shut the door on that topic, he was happy to talk about another one: rookie Nick Bolton, who took over his duties as the team’s MIKE linebacker while Hitchens was on the sidelines.
“He worked his tail off,” Hitchens said of the former Missouri defender. “Just because I wasn’t playing doesn’t mean I wasn’t in every single meeting and at every single practice. I take pride in what I do. If I’m not out there helping on the field, I’m going to be helping in the classroom and walkthroughs and practice. I just taught him everything I knew for that week — and he took it and ran with it. He played his butt off in those weeks — and is still playing well — so good for him.”
He was also happy to talk about how the defense has been looking better in recent games, allowing just 16 points per game since the loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 5, which is less than half of the 32.6 points per game the Chiefs’ defense allowed in the first five weeks of the season.
“It feels good,” he said. “All the work you put in — seeing your brothers put in the same work — and it shows on Sunday.”
But the eighth-year veteran said that in the NFL, it could take a while to get to that point.
“Sometimes we don’t show up in the first couple weeks, three weeks — sometimes it takes until Week 6 or 7 — but when [we do] show up, it looks good. Everyone likes watching it and being a part of it. All we have to do is continue working — and continue building on weeks prior.”
He also said that the improvement in recent games hasn’t been due to anything more than he and his teammates continuing to work — and getting everyone back on the field.
“To be honest, we haven’t really changed nothing,” he noted. “We’ve got some guys that are a little more healthier now; we’ve got our full 11 (or 13) guys out there that we rotate around. We haven’t changed nothing; we just kept working.
“We knew that we had good players on our side of the ball; we can get it done. We’ve showed that in the past years — and we’ve got a lot of the same guys. So we’re a very confident group. All we’re going to do is keep working — and hopefully, it shows up on Sunday.”
And for the coming game, Hitchens said the focus would be on Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr.
“He’s the key,” acknowledged the linebacker, who will be playing his eighth game against the longtime Raiders starter. “When he’s firing on all cylinders, they tend to win a lot of games. I think I’ve seen a stat where when he throws over 300 yards or so, they’re 5-0. Under that, I think they’re 0-3. He’s definitely the guy that makes them go.
“He’s a great quarterback when he’s playing at that level, man — he’s one of the best in this league. So we’ve got some things [planned] for him — a little cat-and-mouse game between me and him — [and I’m] looking forward to it.”