The Kansas City Chiefs completed a perfect preseason on Friday night, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 28-25 at Arrowhead Stadium. Here are five things we learned from the victory.
1. We should never worry about Patrick Mahomes
The Chiefs’ superstar quarterback gave us pause during the preseason Week 2 game against the Arizona Cardinals — and didn’t look that great in Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers, either.
On Friday night, it only took two minutes and 38 seconds to alleviate those concerns.
In the opening drive against the Vikings, the team began with a pair of handoffs to running back Jerrick McKinnon that gained a dozen yards and a first down — and then Mahomes unloaded a sharp-looking sidewinder throw to tight end Travis Kelce for 28 yards. After another McKinnon run good for four yards, Mahomes threw a rainbow (with fantastic touch) that landed right in the hands of wide receiver Tyreek Hill as he crossed the goal line.
He looked just as spectacular in the second possession, which ended with a smartly-thrown touchdown pass to tight end Blake Bell. Head coach Andy Reid was more than happy to put him on the bench before the first quarter came to an end. Mahomes sat down with a passer rating of 158.3 on the night. That’s as high as that metric goes.
So in case you were worried... Mahomes is just fine. And with an offensive line that can produce a genuine running game, he’s going to be as dangerous as ever — if not more so.
2. The Chiefs defense is starting to look like the one Steve Spagnuolo wants
We shouldn’t be surprised that — season after season — the Kansas City offense runs on all cylinders.
The quarterback who runs it is obviously one of its biggest drivers. But another big factor is that the Chiefs are going into their ninth season with one of the league’s best offensive minds collecting the players he wants — and designing an offense to suit them. The remarkable stability of Reid’s offensive staff through this period is a factor, too.
Now entering his third season as the team’s defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo is starting to see the same thing happen with his unit. He did a remarkable job to turn it around in 2019 — but now, he’s in a position to make incremental improvements on a year-by-year basis, collecting the players he wants and designing a defense that best fits their particular skills.
During the preseason, that’s clearly been on display. The Vikings managed to score 25 points on the Chiefs — the most of any team in the exhibition season. But at halftime — when the final first-team players left the field — the Chiefs led 21-3. Both offense and defense were manhandling the Vikings.
We expect to see the Chiefs field a dominant offense. But if this is the kind of defensive performance we can expect to see in 2021, Kansas City will be a very difficult team to beat.
3. Andy Reid might have to adjust his quarterback plans
Like most other head coaches, Reid likes to have three quarterbacks available. But unlike other coaches, he doesn’t like to use three roster spots for them. Instead, recent seasons have seen him keep two quarterbacks on the active roster — these days, Mahomes and an experienced backup like Chad Henne — and have a developmental quarterback on the practice squad.
But that might be hard to manage when the Chiefs get to the final cutdown. In the team’s three preseason games — including over more than three quarters on Friday — undrafted free agent rookie Shane Buechele completed 37 of 53 passes for 422 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. That’s a passer rating of 96.6.
Yes... most of that has been against second and third-string defenses — but also mostly with Kansas City’s second and third-string offensive cast. And Buechele has played like a complete professional, appearing calm and poised as he directed the Chiefs’ offense down the field. In a two-minute drill before halftime on Friday, he conducted a 12-play, 1:37 drive leading to a touchdown pass to Marcus Kemp just as if he’d been doing it on an NFL field for his whole life.
All of that said, if Buechele is waived on final cutdown day so that he can be signed to the Kansas City practice squad the next day, it’s unlikely that another NFL team will claim him — after all, he’s still an undrafted rookie.
But the way he’s played should make the Chiefs at least consider the possibility that they need to adjust their usual routine.
4. This might be one of the deepest Chiefs teams we’ve ever seen
During this week’s Arrowhead Pride Editors Show podcast, I told Pete Sweeney that this might be the most difficult-to-predict final roster I’ve ever seen. Pete noted that at least during Reid’s tenure, this was certainly true.
At the time, I saw the main difficulty for the team as not only having to decide which players needed to be kept but also about how many to keep at each position. It’s further complicated by the situations surrounding players like injured offensive linemen Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Kyle Long. If the Chiefs want to have them available as depth later in the season, they’ll have to be on the roster on final cutdown day. Only then can they be placed on injured reserve, from which they could return as early as the fourth week of the season.
But after watching Friday’s game, I recognized another problem: for the first time in my memory, the Chiefs are going to have to cut a lot of players they’d much rather keep.
After special teams coordinator Dave Toub publicly called out wide receiver Demarcus Robinson this week, it would have been easy to conclude that he might be released in favor of some of the young wideouts who crowd the roster. But on Friday, Robinson was playing with the first team like a man who will make the roster. The Chiefs have invested two seasons in tight end Jody Fortson. He’s finally looking like something more than a camp crush — but do the Chiefs have the roster space to keep him? And if they don’t, will he be available to put on the practice squad again? Those are just two of many examples.
It’s a good problem to have — and one that you should really expect a perennial Super Bowl contender to display. But it’s happening not just because the Chiefs have drafted some good players. It’s also happening because, over time, they are developing good players. Sometimes, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to them.
5. Darwin Thompson will always have a place in my heart
It’s impossible to know whether the third-year running back will be a member of the Chiefs on Wednesday. Almost the only way he can make the team is if the Chiefs keep four running backs — and given their other needs, there’s no way to tell if that will happen.
But I have to admit: I’ve always been a fan. It started the day he first spoke to reporters during 2019’s training camp. The headline I wrote said, “Darwin Thompson packs lots of talent, heart and desire in a small package.”
”It’s everything I’ve worked for,” Thompson told reporters on that July day. “Nothing before this really matters now. It’s the beginning. This is the beginning of the journey. It’s a new identity I can create. They’re only going to remember me now for what I did in the NFL — not so much for what I did in college. I only played one year of D-I football — I played all in JUCO. My name before this isn’t really going to mean anything. I’ve got a chance to prove myself — to prove my worth at this level.”
Then he explained why he calls himself “D-Train.”
“It’s not really about the way I run the football. It’s about how I train to prepare for football — how I take it so seriously. My conscience messes with me every day. I can’t miss a rep. I’ve got to go full speed. Somebody is out there ready to take my spot.”
By Wednesday, someone may have taken his spot. So while I can’t say if the D-Train will reach Kansas City’s station, I sure have enjoyed watching it. Wherever you may travel... good luck, Mr. Thompson.