Maybe some day Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt will reflect on his rookie season and feel some sense of accomplishment.
He secured the NFL’s rushing title on his only carry of last week’s regular-season finale in Denver and twice won the league’s rookie of the month award. He etched his name into NFL history from the moment he debuted, when he torched the Patriots’ defense for 246 yards from scrimmage, and went on to become the first player to make touchdown runs of at least 50 yards in each of his first three games.
He overcame a slump, during which he was held scoreless in nine straight games and in a stretch of three November games averaged 42.3 yards per contest.
But on Saturday evening, after the Chiefs blew an 18-point halftime lead in a 22-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Wild Card game at Arrowhead Stadium in front of a crowd of 73,319 fans, none of that mattered.
“I didn’t do enough to help win,” Hunt said. “So.”
The Titans held Hunt to 42 yards and one touchdown in 11 carries. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota gained 46 yards in eight attempts of his own.
The glory of Hunt’s first postseason touchdown, which opened the scoring in the first quarter, was squashed when the Chiefs coughed up 19 unanswered points in the second half.
There was little Hunt could do to change his team’s fortunes. The Titans defense bore down, only allowing 61 total net yards after giving up 264 in the first half. Hunt and Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith nearly shared an equal load on the ground in the second half — Smith with 11 yards, and Hunt with 17.
The Chiefs couldn’t manufacture enough touches to go around. The Titans burned nearly 8 1/2 minutes off the clock on the opening drive of the second half. The Chiefs had two possessions in the third quarter — they went three-and-out on the first and missed a field goal on the second — and only held the ball for 4:06.
They converted one third down in three possessions in the fourth quarter, holding on for 6:50 of game time, but did nothing else to combat Tennessee’s furious comeback.
It was a full-scale meltdown, accented by a pair of reversed fumble calls and sheer bad luck, like when Mariota caught his own pass, which had been deflected by Darrelle Revis at the end zone, and ran a few yards for a touchdown that cut the Chiefs’ lead to 21-10 after the extra point.
“No, because you’re going to have to sit on it for a whole other year until we get back to this point,” Hunt said when asked if any distance from this game would give him comfort. “We’ve gotta make it back to the playoffs now.”
Hunt finished the season with 1,369 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. His touchdown Saturday gave him a rushing score in a fifth straight game, the longest streak by any player this season, according to a tweet from NFL Research.
Still, the point was moot. With such a somber locker room around him, there was no room for him to dwell on any perceived amount of success.
Like his teammates, Hunt will have to wait for months before he gets a chance to redeem himself.
And that was all that mattered.
“We didn’t live up to our expectations,” Hunt said. “We were supposed to keep winning.”