Four days after a game can feel like an eternity in the NFL — especially with a game of Sunday’s magnitude up ahead. That’s when the Kansas City Chiefs will be in Frankfurt, Germany, to take on the AFC co-leading Miami Dolphins.
The marquee contest follows a game in which Kansas City made plenty of mistakes on offense — and a key error on special teams. During what was still a five-point game at the time, wide receiver Mecole Hardman muffed a fourth-quarter punt and fumbled away the football at the Chiefs’ own 6-yard line.
The Denver Broncos recovered at the 10-yard line and scored a put-away touchdown two plays later.
“I got greedy; I got selfish,” said Hardman right after the game. “[I was] trying to make a play down there. Should have been a fair catch or let the ball bounce. That’s [a] problem — like the reason that we probably lost the game. I [should have] just let that thing go or fair catch it and secure the catch. I believe we were still down eight — five. So that’s probably the one [play] that cost the game for us. I’ll probably take responsibility for that one. I definitely take responsibility actually for losing that game. Because you never know, [I] let that ball go, I catch it at the five-[yard-line] or wherever it was, and we go down to score, and that’s it. So I’ve just got to be more smart.”
On Thursday, Hardman’s coordinator, Dave Toub, essentially said, not so fast! He thought Hardman’s decision-making process on the play was correct.
“I’ve talked about this a lot of times,” started Toub. “With punters today, they can put the ball on the 1. They hit it at the 5, and they can put it on the 1. In his case, if you looked at the tape and saw that situation, he did the right thing trying to field the football. It was wide open. There was nobody there. He’s just got to do the routine things routinely, which is catch the football.
“Keep his elbows tight, and take care of fundamentals — and we would have been fine. We get the ball possessed, and he probably could have had 10-15 yards on the play. That’s what you want to do there.”
To Toub, it is more than just the yard line that factors into whether or not Hardman should have caught the ball. In addition to that, at the time, the Chiefs were only seven plays removed from a 50-yard Hardman return setting up the Chiefs’ put-away touchdown.
According to the special teams coordinator, the days of letting everything inside your own 10-yard line bounce are gone. Toub suggested that if the Chiefs were holding a lead, the right call would have been to let the ball go — the score (and time remaining on the clock) factor in now more than ever before.
“In that situation there, he was wide open; he made the right decision,” repeated Toub. “He’s just got to catch the ball.”
Toub later brought up the spark that his phase of the game did provide
“We had a spark with the field-goal block,” said Toub of Justin Reid’s heads-up play. “That’s what we do on special teams: we provide sparks. In that situation there, if [Hardman] just catches the ball and gets 10, we’re not playing football on the 1 — because if he lets it bounce, it’s going to stop, and it could possibly go in the end zone.
“Really, punters put the ball on the 1 now. That’s what they do — so field it.”