Vahe Gregorian

Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill shows again that he is so much more than mere speed

Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill: ‘My momma always taught me not to be soft’

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, playing with an injured hand and heel, was a key to victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2018.
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Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, playing with an injured hand and heel, was a key to victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2018.

In the afterglow of the locker room following the Chiefs’ 27-24 overtime win over Baltimore on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, Patrick Mahomes couldn’t resist razzing Tyreek Hill about, uh, failing to score on their mere 48-yard phenomenon on fourth and 9 that saved the game.

“I thought you were fast,” he called out with a smile to Hill.

The flash who is likely the fastest player in the NFL laughed and said, “I’m not fast no more.”

He is ridiculously so, of course. But he demonstrated anew how he is so much more than simply that with his eight-catch, 139-yard effort despite lugging two injuries that would have sidelined someone with less grit and resolve.

Anyone watching closely has known for a while now that Hill’s speed is just one of his gifts. He also has incredible body control and agility, terrific hands and footwork, a keen grasp of the offense and the ability to track the deep ball that Mahomes says would make him “the best center fielder of all time.”

In other words, all the ingredients to be a stellar wide receiver — not to mention a penchant for celebrations that make the whole package mesmerizing.

On Sunday, he made another dimension more obvious.

“If you had any doubts about Tyreek Hill … just being a football player, today he put that doubt to rest,” fellow Chiefs receiver Chris Conley said. “Because he played through some stuff today. He played through some hits today that would have taken a lot of people out of the game.”

He later added, “He was definitely feeling it. He’s just continued to amaze me, and I’m sure he’s continued to amaze y’all.”

On the receiving end of the play that provided further proof of why Mahomes should be the NFL MVP, Hill was limping with a heel injury that necessitated taping over his shoe at halftime.

The tape, he said with a straight face, was “just for the show, man. I like to look good when I play.”

The wounded heel came after Hill earlier had been forced out of the game when, as he put it, he was “unfortunate enough to get my hand smashed between (the helmets of) two linebackers running full speed.”

Each sent a shudder through Chiefs fans and limited Hill to playing 76 percent (65 snaps) of the Chiefs’ offensive plays. But they didn’t keep him from having the fortitude to be a force with the game on the line as the Chiefs rallied from down 24-17 to tie it in the final minute of regulation.

As Mahomes’ pass came his way, Hill thought, “If I don’t make this play, we lose.”

He also had three catches for 39 yards in what proved to be the game-winning drive in overtime.

To hear Hill tell it, there was never a doubt he’d return to that game and, evidently, he will be ready to go for the AFC West showdown against the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium.

“You know what: I ain’t hurt,” he said Sunday. “I don’t get hurt, man.”

Let’s hope he’s right. Because a strong case can be made that after Mahomes no one offensive player is more crucial to the Super Bowl prospects of the Chiefs. (Getting Eric Berry back on defense obviously is another pivotal factor.)

The latest case in point was the play that helped save the game: That was something, as kicker Harrison Butker said, “only Patrick and Tyreek can do together.”

Now, the Chiefs could ill-afford to be without star tight end Travis Kelce, either.

But part of the reason I wrote last week that Kareem Hunt was more luxury than necessity to their ambitions was Mahomes and Hill, who is at the core of so many of the dynamics.

(A footnote to that: In my Billy Joel-inspired response to one of the readers who disagreed about Hunt being a luxury, I said you may be right, I may be crazy. And in their two games since he was released, the Chiefs have scored 67 points and rushed for an average of 132.5 yards — 14 more than their season average. True proof awaits in the playoffs, of course.)

Hill’s influence also extends to field position because the constant threat he could take a punt back inspires dread in opponents, who are so intent on kicking away from him that they often come up short. The Chargers paid for doing otherwise with Hill’s tone-setting 91-yard return in the first minutes of the season opener.

Hunt was a tremendous player, and no doubt the Chiefs would be better with him. But I believe his absence can be covered in ways the Chiefs would struggle to make up for if they lost Hill, who has 74 catches for 1,258 yards.

“Just the attention that he gets from defenses; I mean, they have to game-plan for him, kind of like Kelce,” Mahomes said. “It opens up everyone else, but then he’s also still able to make plays and beat double teams or tight coverage. That’s something that truly helps take our offense to the next level.”

Because he’s both catalyst and glue.

Asked about Hill’s impact even without the ball, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “Well, he’s fast and (defenders) are aware of that. Whether you’re handing it to him, quick throws, deep throws, he can do all that stuff and do a lot of things for you.

“The thing that kind of gets put aside is he’s a smart kid, innately a smart kid. This stuff, moving him all around like we do and all the motion and shifts and all the gizmos, he’s really good at that. He has no problem learning it and you don’t have to repeat it and repeat it and repeat it to him. He does a lot of things for us, and he does them well.”

Yes, speed is where it starts. It’s just not where it ends.

“He relies on his route-running now,” Mahomes said. “And his speed is his extra hitch that he gets that takes him over the top.”

Along with his toughness.

“My Momma always taught me not to be soft — you know what I’m saying?” he said. “No matter the circumstances.”

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.