The statement win
Despite losing to the Chiefs in an AFC Divisional Round thriller, the Buffalo Bills were the toast of the offseason — with this just being one of the many examples: 12 NFL.com analysts picked the Bills to win the Super Bowl as only one picked the Chiefs (the Los Angeles Chargers were second with five analyst picks).
Sure. Those Bills took care of business in knocking off the reigning champion Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night — but three days later, the Chiefs reminded the world why they shouldn't be forgotten.
As the Chiefs began the post-Tyreek Hill era, quarterback Patrick Mahomes sliced and diced the Cardinals' secondary to the tune of 30 of 39 for 360 yards and 5 touchdowns. Sometimes, press conferences are worth taking with a grain of salt. But the team messaging throughout the offseason was that though Hill was a generational player, the Chiefs would be just fine, adding four new receivers as they retained Mecole Hardman.
On Wednesday, Mahomes apologized to fantasy owners because the scoring was going to come from "everywhere."
“I think there’s going to be like a different player every single game that has the big game. It’s not going to be just necessarily Tyreek and Travis every single week, where it’s like one of the other is having a big game — or both. It’s going to be every single week, it’s going to be someone different.”
As we would find out against the Cardinals, Mahomes' words were only partially true.
Since Mahomes took over as starter in 2018, tight end Travis has been his most usual suspect. Kelce served the quarterback reliably on Sunday, finishing with eight catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. As somewhat expected, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was next up with eight targets, finishing with six catches and 79 yards. Despite an untimely fumble that could have kept the Cardinals in the game, Smith-Schuster looked comfortable as Mahomes trusted to throw it to him.
Patrick Mahomes is the only player in NFL history to throw 3 or more touchdown passes in four straight season-openers (he's now done it 5 straight times).— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) September 11, 2022
2022: 3 and counting
In all, Mahomes connected with 10 different receivers — and even the running game looked good. The Chiefs didn't run much, but they pushed the Cardinals around when they did. Even running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire looked the part, completing a 74-scrimmage yard game and notching two receiving touchdowns.
The Chiefs' offense may not be as explosive without Hill — but in its first look, it would be hard to describe it as less efficient. To be fair, this Cardinals team was beat up, missing defensive end J.J. Watt. But you can't pick who you play — and against an injured team, the Chiefs both dominated and exploited its opponent.
Spagnuolo starts fast
Sans a rough early touchdown drive that required a second-and-18, 24-yard pass to Greg Dortch and a 21-yard scramble by quarterback Kyler Murray, it could be argued the Chiefs defense was just as good as its counterpart.
Led by safety Juan Thornhill, who had a near-interception as part of two total pass breakups, Steve Spagnuolo's unit played quicker, faster, stronger. There had been some fans rightly upset when Kansas City opted to move on from Tyrann Mathieu in favor of Justin Reid, but the move paid dividends right away through his play on defense — and yes, even in what had seemed like a gag: his value as an emergency kicker. Reid hit an extra point — and on kickoffs, was exploding through the ball for touchbacks.
The Chiefs made Murray uncomfortable throughout the game, hitting him four times and only allowing only 29 rushing yards (including that one, long 21-yard run). Rookie defensive end George Karlaftis earned one of those quarterback hits and batted down a pass at the line. The late-camp signing of veteran Carlos Dunlap paid off with a sack. Cornerback L'Jarius Sneed also had a sack and two quarterback hits. As a team, the Chiefs recorded seven passes defensed. Just like on defense, the Cardinals' offense was missing key pieces in DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore — but still, the Chiefs new-look defense started especially strong. We certainly couldn't say that in 2021.
Too many injuries
A bad part about Sunday: the Chiefs had a number of injuries.
We mentioned how Reid had to kick thanks to Harrison Butker rolling his ankle, but offensive lineman Nick Allegretti had to enter the game for an injured Trey Smith. Rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie left the game on a cart due to a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Justin Watson had a chest injury. Mahomes injured his non-throwing hand — and it sounded like X-rays to come.
It was a great day when it came to on-the-field play, but there are lingering questions — ones you wouldn't want on a short week, with the Chargers headed to Arrowhead on Thursday night (By the way, the Chargers had a key injury of their own on Sunday, as primary target Keenan Allen left the game).
The final word
I sure hope you got your MVP and Super Bowl bets in — because I think we're about to wake up Monday with Mahomes and your Chiefs as favorites for both.