KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) When he returned a kickoff for a touchdown a few weeks ago in Denver, Tyreek Hill had put so much space between himself and the Broncos' coverage team that he had time to give DeAnthony Thomas a high-five.
Before he reached the end zone.
On Sunday, when the speedy rookie for the Kansas City Chiefs reached the open field on a punt return against Oakland, his mouthpiece popped to the turf when he was within sight of the goal line.
He might have had time to stop and pick it up.
''I was chewing on the side of it and I made a move, and I dropped it,'' said Hill, who at least made an attempt to grab it out of midair before it hit the turf. ''That would have been epic.''
Epic is a good word for Hill's scintillating performances.
His return TD in a crucial 21-13 win over the Raiders made him the first rookie since Gale Sayers in 1965 to score on a punt return, kick return, on the ground and through the air. Hill also hauled in his sixth touchdown reception earlier in the game, giving him nine touchdowns total this season - third-most by a rookie in franchise history behind only Abner Haynes and Billy Jackson.
Most of these names mean very little to Hill; Haynes played in the 1960s, Jackson in the `80s. But he does know of Sayers, the ''Kansas Comet'' who starred for the Jayhawks before joining the Chicago Bears.
''I mean, I didn't know,'' Hill said. ''That's great. But I'm not the only one on that field doing it. Without those guys blocking for me and Alex throwing me the rock, none of that stuff would happen.''
Hill's record-breaking season has caused some internal conflict for fans that cannot forgive his off-the-field issues. Domestic abuse is a serious crime, and the case that got him kicked out of Oklahoma State and sent him sliding to the fifth round of the draft was particularly egregious.
But many have decided to give Hill a second chance, pointing out the counseling sessions that he has been diligently attending, and the community service work that has been part of the fallout.
Those were the fans who were chanting his name before his punt return touchdown against Oakland.
''I've never seen a stadium chanting a name like that,'' Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, ''and then he houses it. It gave me chills on the sideline. I mean, the whole stadium was chanting his name and he answers. I thought it was one of the coolest things I have seen.''
It's not just that Hill has been scoring touchdowns, either.
They've been crucial touchdowns.
His first touchdown reception came in the season opener against San Diego, the momentum-turning blow in what became the biggest comeback in franchise history. His first touchdown at Arrowhead Stadium came in a 27-21 win over New Orleans. And he scored on the ground, through the air and on that kick return in Denver - the Chiefs' only three touchdowns in a 30-27 victory.
''Am I surprised? No, not at all,'' Smith said. ''Two things: I think he obviously has that kind of ability and those tools, but I think mentally he is really smart and really works hard.
''For a young kid, the stage is not too big. He doesn't blink out there,'' Smith continued. ''We can do a lot with him and move him around and he can play in a lot of different positions. He is on it. He prepares every week. There was a process, but it was very clear early in OTAs that he had a lot of ability and they have put more and more on his plate, and I think he's responded really well.''
Andy Reid was asked this week where the Chiefs would be this season without Hill, and the veteran coach predictably punted. He doesn't often bite on hypotheticals. But it's an intriguing question, and one to which the Chiefs are glad they don't have to know the answer as they prepare to host Tennessee on Sunday.
''Yeah, I'm proud of the kid,'' Reid said. ''I've mentioned that in the past here that I'm proud of him more for what he's done off the field than on the field. He's trying to right a wrong. It's hard because it's something that he's not real proud of. So, listen, he's doing the right things and trying to do the right things here now. My hat goes off to him there.''
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