Mecole Hardman shared a locker with Tyreek Hill on Sunday, both their nameplates hanging over the same cubbyhole inside the visitors’ locker room at the Oakland Coliseum. As a media crowd gathered around Hardman to dissect his first career touchdown in the Chiefs’ 28-10 victory against the Raiders, Hill actually spotted it first.
“Man, they’re about to rush you,” he said, and then reluctantly, he moved out of his seat to make way.
Same as it had unfolded on the field.
While Hill missed the game due to injury, he cleared a path for Hardman, who responded with four catches, 61 yards and the first touchdown of his career.
And that didn’t even count the 72-yard touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty.
“Emotions running high, you know?” Hardman said. “I wanted to get in the end zone this week. Been practicing hard. Had a good week of practice. But just getting in the end zone, it’s a dream kind of come true. But you have to continue working. I have to get in there some more.”
The day actually didn’t start well.
In the first quarter, quarterback Patrick Mahomes targeted Hardman on a third-down play. At an initial glance, the ball seemed to be thrown a bit wide or perhaps a bit early. But a deeper analysis shows Hardman slow to come off his cut to the sideline. Rather than a quick, flat-line move, his out route had a bend to it after he attempted to deke the safety.
It sparked a conversation between Mahomes and Hardman.
Mahomes grabbed Hardman on the sideline and delivered a message that set the tone for the remainder of his afternoon.
“I think it was just him finding the speed of the game,” Mahomes said. “He’s still a young guy, and it’s just his second game in the league. He realized that he has to be fast with his cuts. He kinda tried to sell it a little bit more with a nod, and he was open, but it was late, and the pressure was there.
“So I just told him, you have to speed it up. You have to play with that speed; use your speed. You saw him the rest of the game — he sped it up and made big plays for us.”
With the Raiders devoting much of their attention to Sammy Watkins after his career game in Week 1, the Chiefs needed production elsewhere. They received plenty from Demarcus Robinson, who totaled 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And Hardman provided what could have been most glaringly absent without Hill.
Speed down the field.
On third and 20, Hardman just simply outran the back end of the Raiders secondary. Flew by safety Curtis Riley, who was late to turn his body.
“It was like a double move,” Hardman said. “The safety was flat-footed all game. I knew with my speed, I could run past him. It was there the whole game. We just had to keep going back to it, and eventually Pat was going to hit you.”
The touchdown gave the Chiefs their first lead of the game, the only one they would need. It prolonged a dominant second quarter in which the offense put up 28 points. Mahomes fired deep throughout the day — despite missing his biggest deep threat.
After the initial conversation, he had no problem targeting Hardman.
“I definitely had to step up,” Hardman said. “With (number) 10 not on the field, he’s a viable asset. He’s one of the best receivers in the league, so when you ain’t got that on the field, that presence on the field, you know you feel obligated to step in. I think I had some light weight on my shoulders. But I had a good week of practice. Come out here and play and just go with it.”