— In a game in which the Kansas City Chiefs pulled out a stunning 42-27 come-from-behind win over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on their coronation night, the play of the game turned out to be an innocuous 9-yard midway through the first quarter.
That’s when Chiefs coach Andy Reid turned again to rookie running back Kareem Hunt, who fumbled and lost the ball on his first NFL carry on the team’s first offensive back on the field for team’s second offensive drive.
“He was upset, he was really upset,” Reid said. “He came to the sideline angry but we told him to calm down and to carry the ball the next play, and he carried it the next play and did a nice job.”
The faith from his head coach restored Hunt’s faith in himself.
“It showed me that they believed in me, they weren’t going to give up on me and just put me on the bench,” Hunt said.
Hunt put on a show following the fumble, rushing for 148 yards and a touchdown while adding 98 receiving yards with two touchdowns. His 246 yards from scrimmage set an NFL record for a player in his NFL debut. He eclipsed the 217 yards from scrimmage Anquan Boldin posted in his first NFL game in 2003.
His 148 rushing yards tied with Cadillac Williams for the fourth-most rushing yards in an NFL debut. Only Ottis Anderson (193), William Anderson (167) and Billy Sims (153) rushed for more yards in their first NFL games.
Hunt finished the first half with seven carries for 47 yards and two catches for 8 yards and a touchdown as the Chiefs trailed 17-14.
Quarterback Alex Smith said Hunt kept the team in the game.
“There was a good chunk there where we were going as Kareem was going,” Smith said. “He was really a big chunk of the offense tonight.”
Hunt said his teammates support helped him put the fumble behind him.
“The guys on the sideline stuck with me, especially the defense, saying, ‘We got your back,'” Hunt said. “Just letting me know that we’re going to be all right. Forget about it, come back and make plays.”
Linebacker Derrick Johnson said Hunt’s attitude following the fumble impressed him.
“A lot of people would have duck their head or put their tail under their legs,” Johnson said. “He’s pretty good, I’ll tell you that.”
Reid wasn’t afraid after the game to to compare Hunt favorably to other running backs from his coaching career.
“I’ve had a lot of rookies start for me over the years,” Reid said, “but you know, the Brian Westbrooks, they could think on their feet and do those things and that’s what this kid can do.”
Like Brian Westbrook, Hunt appears to be a dual threat on the ground and in the air from the backfield.
That point was driven home when Smith aired out a deep pass to Hunt for a 78-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. That put the Chiefs up 28-27, given them a lead they would never relinquish.
“Once Alex threw a great ball over the middle, I knew I had to go get,” Hun said. “Once I caught it, no looking back, I had to go score. I knew were were down, I knew we needed seven quick.”
Like a true perfectionist, Hunt enjoyed the success of his team’s big win but still fixated on the mistake that kept him a split-second from perfection.
“I’m excited and still a little bit kind of disappointed in myself because I let one slip,” Hunt said. “I still think about it little bit. But I’m not going to forget about it now. I’m going to be cautious and learn from my mistakes and keep coming out.”