Mile High Stadium shook as the Chiefs huddled around Alex Smith near the goal line Sunday.
With 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter of 30-27 victory that what would go down as an instant classic, the Chiefs — who had just scored a touchdown — trailed the archrival Denver Broncos by two and needed a two-point conversion to send it to overtime.
To that point, the Chiefs had shown a resilient spirit throughout the contest. The special teams stood out, the defense starred (at least early) and a largely-miserable offense finally sprang to life after two long-ball Denver scores.
Yet, all of the Chiefs’ grit would soon be forgotten if they did not come through in that moment. All it would take would be a single mistake — via play call or execution — to see this one go in the books as just another another prime-time loss to Denver.
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But with the pressure on, Chiefs coach Andy Reid did not call on Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce. Neither did he go to receiver Tyreek Hill, who made a star turn Sunday with a three-touchdown performance.
Instead, Reid dialed up a play for No. 2 tight end Demetrius Harris, who had caught all of 10 passes on the year to that point and has, to his unending frustration, consistently suffered from focus drops.
So as Harris, a 25-year-old third-year pro, listened to the play call in the huddle, he steeled his nerves. The ball was coming his way, and he simply told himself that he’d run that route before and caught that pass multiple times in practice.
He just needed to relax … and get it done, of course.
“The whole play was designed for me,” said Harris, who proceeded to haul in the game-tying two-point conversion. “I had a little guy in front of me, so I was just using my body to shield him off.”
That little guy was stud corner Chris Harris Jr., a Pro Bowler who was all over the young tight end as he ran an out route and caught Smith’s pass, which not only quieted the crowd, but also incited announcer Mike Tirico, who couldn’t believe who caught it.
“Smith will roll it, will throw it and it’s caught for the two … by Demetrius Harris, of all people,” yelled Tirico, who chuckled after noting that Harris hadn’t caught a pass in three games.
In the Chiefs’ happy locker room afterward, Harris’ teammates were obviously pumped for him.
“That’s 84 for you, man,” fellow tight end Kelce said, referring to Harris’ jersey number. “That’s my guy right there, man.”
Even outside linebacker Tamba Hali was a joyful observer of the call, as he bellowed with laughter when asked for his reaction to the play.
“It worked,” Hali said, with a loud laugh. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
But as Harris remained largely composed at his locker, he also admitted his constant struggles with drops has been immensely frustrating.
That’s why he credited his coaches, including tight end coach Tom Melvin, for staying on him and sticking with him as he tries to overcome his focus drops.
“I try to get better, and they help me and vouch for me,” Harris said. “It was great confidence (boost) for Coach to call that. I just had to execute it.”
It was an example of how you simply have to stay with it when things look bleak, he added.
“You (mess) up, and you’ve got to come back and get back to it — that’s what I’ve learned this year,” Harris said. “Just throw everything behind you and keep working.”
Reid can notice the difference in Harris.
“He’s done nothing but improve since he’s been here,” Reid said. “Tom Melvin has spent a lot of time with him.”
Harris’ willingness to be coached has been critical, especially when you consider he came to the Chiefs as a raw, undrafted prospect in 2013. Harris played basketball at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and had not played football since high school.
And while many converted basketball players have made it in the NFL, including tight ends Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron, others fail because they either lack the required physicality, or fail to close that experience gap quick enough.
Harris, however, has shown enough promise to stick around for four years. He signed a three-year, $4.6 million extension in January, and this season, he’s played 40 percent of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps. He’s primarily been a blocker, with only 10 catches for 80 yards on the year, but he’s found a way to contribute in other areas.
For instance, Harris has tallied 188 special-teams snaps this season, the sixth-most of any Chief, and earned praise from Reid for his work in that area.
“If he’s not our best special-teams player, he’s surely one of the best,” Reid said. “I’d probably put him as our week-in and week-out best special-teams guy — not counting a kicker, punter or anything like that.”
But on Sunday, Harris shined at his natural position when his team needed it the most.
“I knew we needed to have it,” Harris said. “It was the one I had to have.”