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Chiefs-Browns Instabreakdown: Possible AFC championship preview?

Chiefs survive possible playoff rematch in a Week 1 thriller

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs defeat Cleveland Browns 33-29

The Browns set the tone early with their rushing game. A 13-play, 75-yard march opened the game and the scoring. Kansas City struggled early to get off the field, allowing Cleveland to convert on two fourth-down attempts. The Chiefs found themselves in an offensive rhythm but couldn’t capitalize on scoring opportunities. In the end, the Kansas City playmakers did what they do: they made plays — and the Chiefs escaped a Week 1 scare.

Offense

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense were only able to put up 10 first-half points. Mahomes was able to connect on a few big first-half plays with Tyreek Hill, who put in 96 receiving yards before halftime. Mahomes himself ran it in from five yards out for the first touchdown of the season.

Travis Kelce hauled had three catches on three targets before halftime. The lack of an effective running game — Clyde Edwards-Helaire averaged just one yard per carry in the first half — allowed the Browns to focus on defending the pass.

But after halftime, head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy seemed intent on rectifying that aspect of their offense, starting the third quarter by feeding Edwards-Helaire. This re-commitment to the ground game allowed the Chiefs to maintain balance and rhythm — while keeping the Browns on their heels. The second-year running back was able to give the Chiefs some tough running that assisted in completing the comeback. He finished with 43 yards on 14 carries, while adding 29 yards from three catches.

Kelce came absolutely alive in the latter part of the game. After his three-reception first half, he finished with 76 yards on six catches — finding pay dirt twice. Hill continues to lay claim to being a top NFL receiving threat, leading all players with 197 receiving yards (and a touchdown) on 11 catches.

Patrick Mahomes proved — again — that he can never count his team out. Down big at halftime with a shaky-looking defense, Mahomes led Kansas City on an uphill battle. But establishing the running game was instrumental in opening up the deep part of the field — where Hill is so dynamic and versatile that defenses simply don’t have answers.

Offensive Player of the Game: Tyreek Hill

Simply put, Hill saved the day for the Chiefs’ offense. In the first half, he was the offense’s bright spot — and continued that production throughout the game. His marquee play came on a one-play drive where Hill made a Browns defender look silly, running untouched into the end zone on a 75-yard strike.

Defense

The decision to defer to the second half may have had a bigger impact on the game than many might consider. Had Kansas City not deferred — taking the ball to open the contest — they would have had the opportunity to score first, applying pressure on the Browns’ run-first offense. However, the absence of defensive end Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu was evident all afternoon — had likely had much to do with why the defense struggled early in the game. In the first half, the Chiefs gave up seven yards a carry to Cleveland running backs. Nick Chubb found the end zone twice. The successful running game allowed Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield to get in a play-action groove — and prior to intermission, Kansas City struggled to find an answer.

Linebacker Willie Gay Jr. was inactive, making an already thin linebacker room even more vulnerable. Defensive star Chris Jones finally made an impression with a big second-quarter sack. The Browns nearly scored on a backyard play at the end of the first half, but the Chiefs prevented a late score to take a 22-10 deficit into the locker room.

In the second half, the defense wrote a different narrative. They were much improved against the run — and even though former Chief Kareem Hunt scored in the third quarter, it marked the end of the night for the Browns offense. The defense would then force a turnover on downs and a punt — and ended the game with Mike Hughes intercepting a Mayfield pass.

The pass defense allowed multiple big plays — and Browns tight end David Njoku was the perpetrator on most of them. The defense also had issues trying to slow down Jarvis Landry — a Swiss-army-knife player for Cleveland. Mathieu’s unavailability proved to be a big loss for the Chiefs secondary. Mathieu should be back for the Sunday Night Football showdown with the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2.

Defensive Player of the Game: Chris Jones

Late in the game, Jones finally morphed into his All-Pro persona, outlasting multiple double-teams to finally break through the line. He was in on two sacks, forcing Mayfield to be uncomfortable when coming from behind. Once the momentum was clearly on Kansas City’s side, Jones was visibly having fun — interacting with the capacity home crowd and taking over the trenches. It couldn’t have come at a better time.