Hardman was so good on the jet sweep in Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers that the Chiefs figured they would keep trying until the 49ers made them stop. They never did.
He scored three touchdowns en route to a 44-23 Chiefs victory.
“I think I’ve got a good feel for it,’’ Hardman said. “Honestly, just the vision and trying to find out the little holes and the little gaps between the [defenders] . . . If you can get through it with speed and you try to get somebody one on one, it's gonna be a long day for that defender. So I’m just trying to do that.’’
Two of his touchdowns were runs and one came on a pop pass from Patrick Mahomes. The longest of the three, a 25-yard run, illustrated why the Chiefs like getting the ball to Hardman on the jet sweep.
Hardman quickly got around the corner and then paused to allow his blockers, tight end Noah Gray in particular, to do their jobs. He then picked up his speed along the sideline and did some nifty footwork to stay in bounds before reaching the end zone.
“Mecole did a heck of a job going fast and being patient and then hitting it,’’ Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Our guys blocked it well. It's the same play really three different times.’’
In the past the Chiefs and Hardman haven’t been this effective. Mahomes said one reason why is that the Chiefs were more productive with their conventional running game against the 49ers. Running backs Isiah Pacheco, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon combined to average 5.4 yards per carry.
“Jet sweeps work better when you run the ball,’’ Mahomes said. “Then when you get other guys like Travis [Kelce] going through the middle, sometimes they lose sight of that jet sweep guy.
“What makes Mecole so good at it is obviously he is super fast, but he runs really hard and a lot of times when you get smaller receivers and you get on those guys on jet sweeps, they want to get outside and kind of get to the sideline and go out of bounds. With Mecole, that man puts his foot in the ground, he gets upfield and trusts his blockers. You don't see that out a lot of guys in this league and it's a special talent.’’
Hardman came into the game with two receiving touchdowns, but the 49ers game was his best of the season. The Chiefs’ other main receivers -- Travis Kelce, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling -- also had big games. Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling went over 100 yards and Kelce had 98 yards.
Each has had at least one big game this season, but Sunday was Hardman’s turn.