Here are five things we learned in the game:
1. Eric Fisher and Patrick Mahomes aren’t superheroes
It’s asking a lot for a player who suffered a pulled groin muscle on Friday to play effectively on Sunday. It’s asking a lot for a quarterback who suffered an ankle sprain the previous week to play at his best seven days later. In large part, the Chiefs fell to a 10-0 deficit in the first quarter because the team failed to allow for either injury — coming out with an offensive game plan that would be difficult for the team to execute under the circumstances.
Fisher left the field after only a handful of snaps. His backup Cameron Erving was almost immediately beaten, leading to a a 4-yard loss that played a significant role in blunting the Chiefs’ first drive.
Early in the game — on his tender ankle — Mahomes’ deep-ball accuracy clearly wasn’t there. Still, the Chiefs called several deep passes in the opening quarter — and none worked. Even Mahomes’ long touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson to open the second frame was underthrown. The Raiders’ secondary was completely fooled on the play. If they hadn’t been, Robinson probably wouldn’t have been able to catch the ball — much less score.
At least Mahomes finally settled down. Later in the second quarter, his deep touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman was perfect — the first of many such deep passes. But it might have been wiser for the Chiefs to call a more conservative game plan to open the game; against a more difficult opponent; the early lead might have been harder to overcome.
Superman? No. MVP? Yes.
2. The Chiefs pass defense showed up
Through three quarters — the most important of the game when you’re leading by 18 — the Chiefs allowed Derek Carr 18 completions on 31 attempts for 167 yards, a touchdown pass and a pair of interceptions. That’s a passer rating of just 56.8.
Bashuad Breeland came up with a big interception after being burned early. Charvarius Ward looked a lot better. In addition to an interception and a couple of passes defensed, he came all the way across the field to save a touchdown on Josh Jacobs’ long run.
The run defense, however, left something to be desired. Through those same three quarters, the Chiefs gave up 118 yards on just 16 carries, which was 7.3 yards per attempt. Jacobs’ 51-yard run accounted for a lot of that — without it, the Raiders would have had 4.5 yards per attempt — but it’s not what we want to see.
3. Demarcus Robinson can do the job
With Tyreek Hill absent, the Chiefs decided to make Robinson the featured receiver against the Raiders. He came up big, recording 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns on six receptions.
Travis Kelce did what he does, accounting for 107 yards and a touchdown on seven catches. Rookie Mecole Hardman had 61 and a touchdown on four receptions.
I’m old enough to remember when some Chiefs fans were clamoring to trade one of the team’s many talented wide receivers for a cornerback — any cornerback. Based on what we saw against the Raiders on Sunday, I wouldn’t make that deal.
But it’s a long season. We’ll see.
4. DeAnthony Thomas is a tough guy
Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub loves Thomas. Toub has said that pound-for-pound, Thomas is the strongest player on the team. But on Sunday, Thomas showed guts, too.
At the end of a punt return in the second quarter, Thomas took on a pile of Oakland tacklers. They took him down — but with no red jerseys anywhere nearby, Thomas emerged from the pile spoiling for a fight.
Say what you will about Thomas. But taking on a quartet of Raiders by yourself in The Black Hole — when your team just went up 21-10? That takes guts.
5. Playing football on baseball fields stinks
This game will almost certainly go down in history as the last time an NFL game will ever be played on a baseball diamond. Oakland’s RingCentral Coliseum is the last remaining stadium being shared by an NFL team and a baseball team. The Raiders won’t play in Oakland again until November — long after baseball season ends — and they’ll move to Las Vegas in 2020.
It’s the end of an era.
Until the 1970s — when one city after another began building facilities exclusively designed to host professional football — September NFL games were often played on baseball diamonds. Stadiums that we now know only as baseball stadiums — including New York’s Yankee Stadium and Chicago’s Wrigley Field — shared their fields with NFL teams. Other famous stadiums that have long since passed into history — like the Polo Grounds in New York, Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium and Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium — also hosted NFL teams and baseball franchises simultaneously.
It was never an ideal situation. Owing to the nature of of their game, baseball players don’t generally have to transition between grass and dirt while running full-tilt. But football is another matter. When football games are played on baseball diamonds, it’s not unusual for a play to start right on the boundary between grass and dirt; linemen battle on a surface that changes with every step; runners and receivers can also have to make that transition several times on a single play. It stinks — and it adds an additional risk of injury to a sport that doesn’t need any more of them.
I’m a traditionalist on this subject. I love that NFL games are sometimes played on muddy (or snow-covered) fields; it’s always been part of the game’s charm and lore. I wish the NFL would recognize that by allowing its championship game to be played in any stadium that hosts an NFL team. But there’s nothing romantic or wonderful about playing a football game on a field designed for an entirely different sport.
Farewell, baseball diamonds. And good riddance.