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Mecole Hardman says blame for AFC title loss falls on Chiefs’ offense

Kansas City’s fourth-year wide receiver appeared on ESPN’s “First Take” on Thursday.

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

On Thursday, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman appeared on ESPN’s “First Take” with Stephen A. Smith and Charly Arnolt. In his distinctive way, Smith wanted to know “what the hell happened” in the AFC championship game the Chiefs lost in overtime to the Cincinnati Bengals a week ago Sunday.

“It started off great,” said Hardman, who had 70 yards and a touchdown on five touches in the matchup. “The first half was cool. In the second half, we just didn’t score. We put our defense in bad situations. You know, that high-powered offense of Cincinnati? You can’t stop them forever. I think it’s just on us, because we had to score in the second half — and we didn’t.”

Hardman acknowledged that the second half was a repeat of the offensive problems the team had struggled to overcome at different points through the regular season — and in the 31-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl.

“It comes from defenses changing their schemes up — you know, just giving different looks — [and] figuring things out that give us problems,” he explained. “Tampa Bay kind of thought of that last year in the Super Bowl with the kind of defense they played.

“I think it was the ‘adjustment factor’ of just trying to figure out the different looks all the defenses were throwing at us. So there were definitely times where we couldn’t get anything going. When we started figuring things out? That’s when we started rolling. As you know, we went on an eight-game winning streak. So I feel like that’s when things started rolling in: when we started figuring everything out.”

But despite the offensive shutdown that took place in the last half of the 2021 season’s final game, Hardman believes the Chiefs have learned enough from the past season to get back on track in 2022.

“First, we’ve got to figure out the team — make sure we get the right pieces back,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of guys we need to sign [and] a couple of guys we need to extend and everything. So after that — when we get all the pieces together — just get to training camp and get right. It shouldn’t be too hard, because we’ve got nothing to do that we don’t know how to do. Just take it one game at a time.”

As for this weekend’s Super Bowl, Hardman said he believed that Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford’s 13 years of experience will give him the edge over Cincinnati’s second-year quarterback Joe Burrow — and in the end, it will be the Rams’ defense that makes the difference.

“They say defense wins championships — and L.A. definitely has a dominant defense,” said Hardman, whom the University of Georgia had tagged as a cornerback when he first committed to the school before the 2016 season. “So I’m kind of on the L.A. side of things right now. But I’m kind of rooting for the AFC at the same time. But my unbiased opinion? I think defense is going to be the ultimate factor in this game. L.A.’s definitely got the edge on the defensive side.”