Due to an unfathomable tragedy, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Mike Hughes knew he would see an expanded role in Sunday’s matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders. To say he took advantage of it would be an understatement.
Hughes picked up a fumble from Raiders running back Josh Jacobs on the first play from scrimmage and returned it 23 yards for a defensive score, instantly putting his team in the lead for what would be a 48-9 Chiefs victory.
“We always talk about that mentality next man up,” Hughes said in postgame media remarks, “And today was one of those situations. Our job is always to stay prepared, and I was prepared to play today. All of us were, obviously, with the game we just had, and I’m proud we got the W.”
In addition to the big play to start the game, Hughes forced two other fumbles, leading to Raider turnovers. Hughes credited work in practice for his awareness.
“We practice that weekly — turnover drills during practice,” he explained. “Just different ways to create turnovers for the defense. We practice those situations, and multiple situations like that came up today, and I had opportunities and made the plays. Felt good.”
Hughes also claimed this was not the first time he had scored on the first play of the game — but it was the first time as a defender. Hughes appreciated the role his touchdown played in putting the Chiefs in control of the game.
“I did once in high school,” he recalled, “But I was a quarterback, so that’s a little different. It’s always good to get a fast start like that. I think that was huge for our success today. We jumped on them quick, and I think that fueled everybody and got the team going. It felt good to get on top like that.
“(Defensive tackle) Jarran Reed, he made a good play on the ball. Secured the tackle, punched the ball out, and I just happened to be in the right spot. I took every advantage I could of the opportunity, and it turned out well for me.”
Throughout the game, Hughes continued to see opportunities to make plays.
“Those guys were carrying the ball pretty loose,” Hughes observed. “I saw some soft spots, and I took my shots. They worked out today, and it’s always good to create turnovers and get our offense back on the field.”
Hughes entered the league as a first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. After three injury-plagued campaigns, he was traded to the Chiefs in the offseason. His playing time in Kansas City has varied dramatically from week to week, largely limited to defensive subpackages and returning punts in recent games. His teammates, however, were not surprised to see him rise to the occasion on short notice and appreciated the energy he brought.
“His time has been coming for a long time now,” said safety Tyrann Mathieu after the game. “Obviously early in the season — him kind of still getting adjusted to the defense — it took some time. I think right now, he’s playing with that confidence, that swagger. He’s one of those guys — every time he’s around the ball, he’s trying to punch it out or rip it out as well. Just that in itself is creating energy — and, defensively, that’s what we feed off of.”
“Whenever you get a big play like that on the first play of the game,” noted quarterback Patrick Mahomes, “It builds that momentum and that confidence in the entire team and kind of sparked us to go out there and get a win.”
For his part, Hughes trusts his coaches to put him in the best role for overall success.
“My mindset is always coming to help wherever the team needs me,” Hughes claimed. “That’s how I try to approach the game. No matter where they try to put me — I’m willing to do it if it’s going to help the team. That’s all that matters to me.”