Here’s what you need to know:
1. It’s the preseason
This ought to go without saying, but since we’re talking about the first preseason game in the most wildly-anticipated season in Chiefs history, I’ll say it anyway:
It’s preseason, folks. Everything we see — whether it’s good or bad — has to be taken with a grain of salt.
The final score doesn’t matter. The stats will be pretty meaningless. Most of the great plays you’ll see rookies or backups make are made against other rookies or backups. Even the amount of playing time these reserve players get can be misleading since veterans with minor injuries (who would certainly play in a regular-season game) are often held back.
So why do we write about all this? And why should you read it?
Because until the regular season, it’s all we have. As limited and flawed as any information we get from these games might be, it’s the only opportunity we’ll have to see some of these players perform in (a reasonable facsimile of) an NFL football game.
And let’s face it: it’s fun to speculate about how the season will go based on what we see in these games; we’ll latch on to any piece of information we can get!
Just remember where you got it.
2. Patrick Mahomes is the man
The reigning NFL MVP played as if he’d just stepped off the field a few minutes ago — not more than 200 days ago.
His 36-yard pass to Travis Kelce on the first play of the game wasn’t anything spectacular — just a wheel route to the tight end — but it was perfect. It hit Kelce right in his outstretched hands — where only he could get it — and he didn’t have to break stride to haul it in.
Later in the drive, Mahomes recognized that the Bengals had been offsides on a passing play, and did exactly what perennial All-Pros do: he took a chance on the play. It didn’t work out, but those kinds of plays don’t have to work. You just have to have a quarterback who recognizes the moment to take a shot; the percentages will take care of the rest.
Finally, scrambling to his right near the goal line, Mahomes ran for the sideline — but rather than simply run out of bounds, he juked back inside and nearly made it to the end zone himself. The TV commentators made a lot of hay about Mahomes sliding feet first at the goal line — which was exactly the right thing for him to do — but the move at the sideline was a thing of beauty.
Welcome back, Mr. Mahomes.
3. The defense looked better
The defense is clearly playing more aggressively. Daniel Sorensen demonstrated why he continues to find playing time on Andy Reid’s teams by making a heads-up fumble recovery very early in the game. Tyrann Mathieu immediately made another, picking up the ball on a bounce when Sorensen lost the handle. As it turned out, it wasn’t a fumble after all — but that doesn’t take anything away from what Sorensen and Mathieu did on the play.
Darron Lee made a nice stop on a goal-line stand, covering a gap just like he’s supposed to do. Mark Fields showed a nice flash on a pass breakup. Charvarius Ward gave up a long pass that set up the first Bengals score, but he played it extremely well; it would have been difficult to ask more of the man. Remember: the offense always has the advantage, and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton made a perfect throw on the play.
It was also clear that Steve Spagnuolo had no intention to give anyone any tape on whatever stunts and blitzes he’s dreamed up in the year he spent away from coaching. That might have been the key factor in the long drive the Bengals had to open the game; Dalton was operating with very little pressure.
You can’t say the defense looked dominant. But to my eye, it looked better.
4. RPO Speedwagon
Speed, speed and more speed.
Mecole Hardman scored on a jet sweep (one that went in the record book as a pass because the ball was pitched forward) that clearly showed his speed and burst. On another pass to the flat, he also showed his toughness and elusiveness as he fought for extra yardage. He also had a very nice 44-yard punt return after two punts in the first half were not returnable.
Darwin Thompson may be short in stature, but he is strong, tough, fast and elusive. He made a great case to make this team on Saturday, scoring on a short pass where he outran everybody to the end zone. On another play, he made a valiant effort to leap over a defender. He didn’t make it, but you have to have mad respect for a 5-foot-8 guy who will even try such a thing. He also showed an ability to fight for tough yardage inside, and while in pass protection, absolutely trucked a blitzing defender.
Tyreek Hill and Tremon Smith were already on this team. Holy wheels, Batman!
5. TE Who?
There’s been a lot of talk about how crowded the Chiefs wide receiver room has become — and it is crowded. But by the numbers, the tight end room is more crowded than any other. As many as five players have been competing for only one certain roster spot to back up Travis Kelce. Saturday’s game didn’t provide a clear-cut front-runner.
Blake Bell had a couple of nice catches — and made a great block to open a hole on Carlos Hyde’s touchdown run in the first quarter. John Lovett also had a couple of catches — one of them a good one on the sideline — and played a big part in the recovery of a muffed punt in the third quarter. Then big Deon Yelder caught a touchdown pass.
Lovett ended up leaving the game with a shoulder injury — apparently on the muffed punt recovery. That could be good news for those who remain, but it looks like it’s going to be difficult for the Chiefs to decide who is going to be the second tight end.
And honestly... that’s a great problem to have.