KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kareem Hunt’s teammates started boarding the bus for a triumphant homecoming following Kansas City’s surprising 42-27 win at New England to open the season. The rookie running back was still answering questions, still wearing his uniform, after his record-setting debut.
“We wanted to start off on the right foot,” Hunt explained.
Hunt certainly did his part, setting an NFL record with 246 total yards from scrimmage in his regular-season debut, bettering the mark set by Detroit’s Billy Sims in 1980 (217 yards) and equaled by Arizona’s Anquan Boldin in 2003. His three scores also tied the league record for most touchdowns in an NFL debut.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said Hunt provided the spark the offense needed.
“He was really a big chunk of the offense,” Smith said. “For a young guy we put a lot on him in all facets of the game plan tonight and he was able to handle it.”
Hunt saved his most impressive accomplishments for last. He caught two passes for 82 yards in the fourth quarter and his 78-yard touchdown catch put the Chiefs ahead for good. He added 76 rushing yards on six carries down the stretch, helping salt away the win. The ability to finish strong impressed Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
“For him to be able to do that, the pass probably takes more out of him than the run game the way it looks,” Reid said. “For him to feel that way was good.”
The opening carry of Hunt’s professional career was about the only forgettable one for him: On the team’s first offensive play of the game, Hunt fumbled the ball away to the Patriots. Hunt finished his college career at Toledo with 855 offensive touches and just one fumble — and he recovered it.
The next time the Chiefs regained possession, Reid immediately turned to his rookie on first down.
“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.”
Hunt reeled off a 9-yard gain. Reid’s faith in him restored Hunt’s own faith in himself.
“He stuck with me,” Hunt said. “He was just like, ‘Don’t get down on yourself, you’re going to be all right.’ High and tight, just make sure you hold on to it.”
Reid also said Hunt performed well in pass protection.
“That will be his challenge as he goes through here,” Reid said. “Just to be able to pick up all these blitzes that people throw at him, and they had a few the other night that they came after us with.
The whirlwind following Hunt’s dramatic debut led to a flurry of media interviews and other distractions unlike anything Hunt experienced in college. An emotional win over the defending Super Bowl champions could cause a letdown for a young rookie. Smith said he thinks Smith has mental strength to go along with his physical skills.
“You’ve got have that ‘it’ about you,” Smith said. “The stage isn’t too big, that you’re ready for it, that you’re confident.”
Reid believes reality sets back in once Hunt and other young teammates watch tape of the Philadelphia Eagles, who visit the Chiefs on Sunday.
“Our (young) guys have got to make sure that they’re ready,” Reid said, “and I’ve got some good veteran players that will help with that and the coaches will help remind them of that.”
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