KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After a 10-game absence, Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman will make his return in this evening’s AFC Championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Hardman’s return to the lineup is a mild surprise. What isn’t a surprise is that quarterback Patrick Mahomes (ankle) and tight end Travis Kelce (back) are also active for the title clash.
Chiefs inactive list vs. Bengals
- QB Shane Buechele
- TE Blake Bell
- WR Justin Watson
- WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette
- OL Darian Kinnard
- DE Malik Herring
- DE Joshua Kaindoh
Smith-Marsette and wide receiver Marcus Kemp were elevated from the practice squad on Saturday. Kemp is among the players active for Sunday’s game. The Chiefs also activated tight end Jody Fortson from injured reserve, and he will take Bell’s spot on the game-day roster.
There wasn’t any mystery about Mahomes, whom the Chiefs did not label with a game-day designation on Friday, indicating he was expected to play. Kelce was a late addition to the team’s injury report, however, and was listed as questionable due to back spasms. However, he was a full participant in practice all week and looked comfortable during pregame warmups.
Hardman has been sidelined since Week 9 when he landed on injured reserve due to what the club labeled as an abdominal issue that caused him to lose weight. After he was returned to the active roster on Jan. 4, he suffered a setback that the club later termed a pelvis injury. He was inactive for the team’s regular-season finale against Las Vegas and the Divisional Round win over Jacksonville.
The 24-year-old Hardman was on a hot streak before his injury, reaching the end zone five times in his last three games while hauling in 13 catches for 153 and rushing twice for 28 yards. This will be the first time the Chiefs have had Hardman and Kadarius Toney on the field at the same tie since Toney joined the club on Oct. 27.
But the Chiefs won’t have the entirety of their receiving corps intact Sunday. Justin Watson will miss Sunday’s game due to an illness. Watson has been a workhorse for the Chiefs in playing 494 snaps (43% of all offensive snaps) with 15 catches for 315 yards and two touchdowns this season. He caught one pass for 12 yards in 38 plays against Jacksonville last week.