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Five things we learned as the Colts beat the Chiefs

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The Chiefs lost their first game of the season in front of a national audience on Sunday Night Football. What did we learn?

The Kansas City Chiefs lost their first game of the 2019 season on Sunday night, falling to the Indianapolis Colts 19-13.

Here are five things we learned from the game:

The Colts are a good football team

Indianapolis Colts v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Don’t let their record fool you. Reports of the Colts’ demise following the unexpected retirement of Andrew Luck were exaggerated.

The offensive line is just as good as advertised. Marlon Mack — especially behind that line — is a top-tier running back. He’s Le’Veon Bell without the contract demands. Jacoby Brissett isn’t Patrick Mahomes, but he’s a quality quarterback. He’s going to be playing in this league for a while — and winning football games.

And then there’s that one guy. What’s his name? Oh, yeah. Justin Houston.

In Frank Reich, the Colts have a coach who has completely embraced the modern analytical approach to football. He came up with a terrific game plan against the Chiefs — and his players executed it well. The Colts defense did something no one else — including themselves — had done for 25 consecutive games: stop the Chiefs offense.

Don’t sell the Colts short.

Revenge is a dish best served cold

Indianapolis Colts vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Back when the team didn’t have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, Chiefs fans dreamed of exacting revenge against the Colts — a team that has figured largely in the annals of woulda-coulda-shoulda Chiefs games of the last quarter-century.

The shoe is definitely on the other foot now.

After all these years, how is it possible we forgot those humiliating defeats? How did we decide that since the Colts had been so thoroughly defeated at Arrowhead last January, they’d just let the Chiefs roll over them again?

The two teams scored a total of 32 points on Sunday night. Of the eleven members of the Arrowhead Pride staff, 10 of them (including me) predicted the Chiefs alone would score at least that many points against the Colts. The one who didn’t — for the record, it was Robert Rimpson — thought the Chiefs would score 27. Almost two-thirds of our readers thought the team would win in a blowout.

I know: what fans and writers think doesn’t really matter. But you can’t convince me that an outside perception a team is invincible doesn’t somehow find its way into the locker room.

Marty Schottenheimer always said it best: the other guy is on scholarship, too.

Rubbing dirt on it isn’t the answer

Indianapolis Colts vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

I get it. Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins wants to play a full season without missing a game. The Chiefs want that. You want that. I want that.

Suddenly marked questionable with a hamstring injury at the end of the week, Watkins was active for the game just two days later — and almost immediately left it when his injured hamstring flared up.

It’s hard to blame Watkins for doing his best to get into the game. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it’s probably very unpleasant for players when they’re called injury-prone — as if there’s anything a player can really do about that.

But here’s something a player can control: being honest with the training staff. The only way the trainers can know a player has recovered from a hamstring problem is that the player tells them.

It’s not 1965 any more. The right answer isn’t to rub some dirt on it and say, “I’m OK, Coach.” The right answer is to stay out until you can perform at 100%.

That goes for Patrick Mahomes, too. Just like anyone else, I was thoroughly impressed with his moxie on Sunday night. But the reality is that if Mahomes can’t move in the pocket, he can’t be Mahomes. If he can’t play effectively, it makes no sense for him to be on the field risking additional injury.

This math is pretty simple. Is it better for Mahomes to miss (or even be less than his best) for one game or multiple games? We generally approve of the team’s approach with injured players: they shouldn’t play until they’re ready. Why should Mahomes — the most valuable player the team has had on its roster for generations — be an exception to that policy?

I understand: Matt Moore doesn’t look like an attractive option. But Moore didn’t need to be Mahomes. Instead, he needed to be Alex Smith. Maybe putting Moore in the game would have given Andy Reid a reason to put more emphasis on the running game — to just concentrate on driving down the field. It might even have forced the Colts defense to adjust what they were doing; certainly nothing else was making that happen.

The Chiefs defense was doing its job; 20 points was all the team needed to win. Even Smith could do that.

Travis Kelce is gonna Travis Kelce

Indianapolis Colts vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

In this space after last week’s victory over the Detroit Lions, I pointed out that the Chiefs tight end has come a long way since he was a young player who frequently got into trouble with the officials. Since then, our Ron Kopp Jr. went into more detail, tracing Kelce’s trajectory from hotheaded player to seasoned team leader.

And how did he thank us?

By shoving offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on the sidelines. On national TV.

We don’t know what Bieniemy said to Kelce — but we can guess: on successive targets, Kelce had lost the handle as Colts defenders sought to punch the ball from his hands — but fortunately for Kelce (and the Chiefs), both were ruled incomplete passes. It’s likely the offensive coordinator would have wanted to say something to Kelce about that — and the fiery Bieniemy probably wouldn’t have made his point politely.

Whatever he said, it drew a two-handed shove from Kelce. Bieniemy was ready to push back and had to be restrained. But within minutes, the TV cameras also caught a conciliatory embrace between them.

I’m not going to suggest that we’re witnessing the return of the pre-2017 Travis Kelce. But we probably shouldn’t forget that for all the growing he’s done, deep inside he’s still an emotional, passionate player. That’s a big part of what makes him a great one.

And let’s give him credit. The old Travis Kelce would have sulked for the whole game — and maybe taken some verbal shots at his offensive coordinator afterward. The new Travis Kelce gave Bieniemy a hug.

This isn’t the end of the season

Indianapolis Colts vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

It’s a fact: the Chiefs defense has been poor against the run.

But the only reason that mattered on Sunday night is that the Colts managed to keep Mahomes from lighting them up. That didn’t happen because the Colts ran the ball. It happened because they kept pressure on Mahomes — which the Chiefs allowed them to do by failing to keep the Colts defense honest with its own running game.

Mahomes and his merry men will revert to form. 19 points was enough to beat the Chiefs on Sunday. But it’s not going to be enough to beat them on most Sundays — or even Mondays or Thursdays.

I remind you: the New England Patriots were held to 10 points three times in 2018 — and lost all three of those games. All they did was finish 11-5 and win the Super Bowl.