Kansas City, Missouri – Just about the only thing that looked familiar about the NFL’s long-awaited return Thursday night was the sight of Patrick Mahomes effortlessly leading the Kansas City Chiefs up and down the field.
The Super Bowl MVP threw for 211 yards and three touchdowns, Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran through the rain for 138 yards and another score, and the Chiefs began defense of their first championship in 50 years by beating the Houston Texans 34-20 on Thursday night before a socially distanced crowd of about 17,000 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill each caught TD passes for the Chiefs. They have won 10 straight dating to last season. That run includes a come-from-behind 51-31 victory over the Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“I’m proud of our players but I’m also proud of our fans. They came out there. They were loud,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who claimed he didn’t notice some booing from fans during a pregame moment of unity involving both teams.
“Obviously, our players, both sides of the ball and special teams , I thought they were solid,” Reid continued. “For the first game there were some good things that were done, some great individual performances.”
The Texans’ Deshaun Watson threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score, but he also was under relentless pressure and was intercepted once. David Johnson provided the biggest bright spot for Houston, running for 77 yards and a score.
“There’s a lot to fix,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “It’s only one game. We have to improve pretty quickly. But it’s only one game . We have to get back to work pretty soon and fix these things.”
The world has changed dramatically in the seven months since the Chiefs hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Miami.
Within six weeks, the term COVID-19 had become a part of everyday life, the disease killing more than 900,000 people around the globe. The death of George Floyd at the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer in May touched off the Black Lives Matter movement, which in turn has led to a summer of social unrest that has gripped the country.
Against that backdrop came an NFL opener unlike any other: masks worn by everyone from fans to the coaching staffs; a series of videos raising awareness of social justice initiatives and encouraging the public to vote; and ultimately both teams locking arms in a display of unity prior to the coin toss.
To the relief of many, kickoff finally brought 4 hours of normalcy.
The Texans, who blew a 24-point lead against Kansas City in the the playoffs, struck first when they marched 80 yards for a touchdown. The elusive Johnson finished it off by scampering 19 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
But just like that cold January day, the red-hot Chiefs quickly overcame their slow start.
They tied it moments later when Mahomes threw a short touchdown pass to Kelce, then took the lead when they forced a quick punt and Mahomes found Watkins in the end zone. Harrison Butker capped the first half by kicking a chip-shot field goal that sent the Chiefs to the locker room with a 17-7 lead.
Edwards-Helaire, their first-round pick, padded the lead in the third quarter. After ripping off an 11-yard gain early in the drive, the pint-sized dynamo out of LSU unleashed a wicked stutter-step before running 27 yards for another score.
“He’s just another weapon I have in this offense,” Mahomes said.
The Chiefs put the game away when rookie L’Jarius Sneed picked off Watson’s jump ball in the closing seconds of the third quarter. Mahomes was bailed out of a fourth-down interception by pass interference in the end zone, then he zipped a dart to Hill streaking across the field for a 31-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“We just trust whatever Coach Reid is dialing up,” said Kelce, who finished with six catches for 50 yards. “They do an unbelievable job preparing us and scheming up defenses and we just trust what they’re doing.”
Watson threw a touchdown pass and ran for a TD later in the quarter to make the final score a bit more respectable.
“It was a little different but the fans did what they did for their home team and that was pretty much it,” Watson said. “We just got to continue to do our job, find the rhythm, get guys on the same page and that’s pretty much it.”