The moment Jeremy Maclin realized Charcandrick West just might take it to the house, he turned on the jets himself to sacrifice his body.
This was Sunday, the fourth quarter of the Chiefs’ 29-13 win over Denver. The Chiefs already had a healthy 22-point lead at the time, which might have kept another wide receiver from making the choice Maclin did. But to him, it was about the principle of the thing.
Nevertheless, as West bore down on the Broncos’ end zone, Maclin finally caught up with Broncos safety T.J. Ward, who was hot in pursuit of West, just inside the 5-yard line. Maclin then threw his body in front of Ward, and it was the last block West would need on an 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown that officially put the nail in the Broncos’ coffin.
But Maclin would not have time to celebrate afterward; he was too busy giving Ward a piece of his mind. While both were going to the ground, Ward intentionally struck Maclin in the head, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that got Ward ejected and ultimately fined $10,000.
But before Ward could leave, he’d have to deal with Maclin, who immediately popped off the ground and got in Ward’s face. Let’s just say coaches and teammates were not surprised by this.
“Jeremy is a feisty guy, man — and a confident guy,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “That part could carry over to other people. He’s going to play hard, you saw it in his blocking (Sunday). Not just the one where 43 (Ward) got ejected from the game, but on some of the other plays you saw him downfield blocking people.
“That’s how he rolls, he’s going to play the whole play. He played aggressive, tough, not going to back down from anybody.”
Backup quarterback Chase Daniel added, “Oh yeah, he’s always got an edge to him. What people don’t realize is how physical a blocker he is in the run game. He likes to stick his head in there, get dirty a little bit. He doesn’t like getting punked, and he felt like he got punked when T.J. did that, so it was fun to watch.”
Maclin’s reaction to Ward’s dirty play has actually been a constant all season long. Turn on the tape of almost any game, and you can see Maclin, the Chiefs’ $55 million wide receiver, talking to an opposing defensive player at some point about something done to him — a verbal slight, a cheap shot, etc. It was all part of the Maclin package the Chiefs signed up for when they signed him to a five-year deal this offseason.
“He brings a little swag out there, and I love to see that,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “He definitely brings a great quality of football skills to what we’re doing offensively, and then with that, comes the rest. So it was kind of a football-first (decision to sign him), and then whatever’s coming with it, we’ll take it.”
And while Maclin has lived up to his contract on the field, his intangibles have been a net gain, as well, as Maclin’s teammates and coaches say his take-no-stuff attitude has not only helped him earn the respect of his offensive linemen, it’s also rubbed off on his younger players.
“I think it’s just (my) competitive nature,” Maclin said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a part of my game. ... I just think it’s a grown-man mentality, you know? I’m not going to let anybody say anything to me crazy, you know what I mean?”
Perhaps the first sign that Maclin was a bit unlike anybody the Chiefs have had at receiver in a long time came during training camp in August. During one otherwise nondescript day, he and cornerback Marcus Cooper got into a scuffle after Cooper took Maclin to the ground while trying to defend a deep pass.
Maclin rose to his feet, took a few steps toward Cooper — his head cocked slightly — and pushed him. The two had to separated, and the event ignited what turned out to be a spirited day of practice that featured a few other scuffles between the offense and defense.
Cooper says the two buried the incident immediately, and Maclin — who he calls the “ultimate competitor” — has his respect.
“He’s everything you want in a guy,” Cooper said. “He’s going to come out there and he’s going to try to be physical with you if that’s the way to beat you. He’s going to try to outsmart you … he’s trying to win every rep.”
Maclin says that in general, he feels the need to stand up for himself. When someone tries to take a cheap shot, just to make it known that it won’t be tolerated — not that day, not ever.
“I just think it’s a mentality to let teams know that ‘Hey, can’t bully us — that’s not what it’s going to be like (today),’ ” Maclin said. “I think some teams, historically, come with that type of mind-set, with that type of reputation like ‘Hey, we’re going to try to bully you.’ But it’s not going to go down like that.
“If a guy pushes me, my goal is not necessarily to push him back; my goal is to say, ‘Hey man, you better chill out’ — it’s that simple, you know what I mean? Sometimes, I think defensive backs think they’re tougher because they play on defense as opposed to offense. Some guys do it, some guys don’t, but like I said, it’s just letting people know they’re not going to do whatever they want to do (to me).”
Chiefs receiver Jason Avant, who was Maclin’s teammate in Philadelphia from 2009 to 2012, says Maclin has always had a chip on his shoulder when it comes to his on-field play, which can be beneficial for a team provided you don’t get penalties, which Maclin doesn’t.
“This is a football game, it’s a violent game — you don’t want to have guys pushing you around, you don’t want to acquiesce to anything in this game,” Avant said. “Everything should be worked for and hard earned. So if a guy is pushing on you and stuff like that, it’s a sign of disrespect. And in the game, you can’t just have it.”
Younger teammates say Maclin’s attitude, which is also shared by Avant, emboldens them on the field.
“Oh, they never back down,” rookie receiver Chris Conley said. “They’re always going to take it to (people), sometimes to the point where you’ve got to pull them back a little bit. But that’s what your teammates are there for.”
Second-year receiver Albert Wilson said Maclin’s physical play sets the tone for the other receivers.
“It gives you more confidence where you see he doesn’t take anything and you’re following behind him, so you don’t take anything,” Wilson said. “When you’re playing with a certain attitude, the game goes better. The defense stops with the little nagging, the cheap shots. But if you just go without saying anything, they’re going to keep doing it.”
Aside from using his words, one of the ways Maclin, 27, likes to even the odds with defensive players is by being a selectively physical blocker. On run or pass plays where he recognizes that he has an opportunity to potentially spring a big block, he’ll give good effort in trying to do so, even if it would take a cutback from several yards away to make worth it.
It’s hardly something receivers get credit for, especially physically-gifted ones like Maclin who command fans’ attention for their speed and ball skills.
But to him, blocking in Reid’s offense — which is reliant on screens and stretching the field horizontally — is a necessity.
“You just have to be a team player,” Maclin said. “I’ve said this all along, I’ve made my money. It’s not about going out there and putting up 200 yards receiving every game. In crunch time, when my number is called, I’ll be there … even if you’re on the back side of a run you always have to stay in tune with what’s going on.”
His linemen have taken notice of his effort, too. Center Mitch Morse, left guard Jeff Allen and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif all mentioned that they appreciate Maclin’s willingness to do the dirty work.
“That speaks volumes about how unselfish he is,” Morse said.
Duvernay-Tardif even went as far to call Maclin one of the team’s best open-field blockers.
“It sets the tempo and everybody kind of feeds off of it,” he said.
Duvernay-Tardif was specifically referring to blocks like the one Maclin had on West’s 80-yard touchdown, a display of effort that fired up Allen so much he actually mentioned it to Maclin after the game.
“I was like, ‘Man, I didn’t know you had that in you,’ ” Allen said. “He brought it out.”
It should also be said that Maclin is doing the thing he was brought to Kansas City to do — catch passes. He’s tied for the team lead with 45 catches, and has a team-leading 583 yards.
But Maclin knows that being a complete football player is about more than that. It’s about setting a good example for his teammates, whether it’s by standing up for himself on the field or by doing the dirty work as a blocker, all in the name of getting victories.
“I respect the guys who do everything,” Maclin said. “It’s not just about catching 15 balls for 200 and two touchdowns in a loss. You can have three (catches) or 17 (yards) like I did, hustle your butt off and come up big when your team needs it.”