New Chiefs come up big. With Patrick Mahomes and the majority of the established starters only participating in one drive on Sunday, there came opportunities for other Chiefs players to make an impact through the rest of the game, and some new faces made themselves seen. Wide receiver Richie James, who came over this offseason from the Giants, got the offense jump-started after multiple fruitless drives for K.C. to start the game. James was on the receiving end of two big plays from backup QB Blaine Gabbert, reeling in a 43-yard catch and then a one-yard TD reception on the same drive to put the team’s first points on the board. He also added a kick return for 31 yards. 2023 Second-round pick Rashee Rice also got some time through the middle of the game, making three catches for 30 yards, though he also recorded a false start penalty. And Justyn Ross, who spent all of last year on injured reserve after being signed as an undrafted free agent, finally took the field for the Chiefs and made his time count with three catches, including a 15-yard TD.
Winner: Saints fans
New Orleans is banking a lot on the availability of veterans who’ve struggled with just that, but seeing Derek Carr dishing it to Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas against the Chiefs, with Jameis Winston later dumping it to Jimmy Graham (!), must’ve been encouraging. The NFC South isn’t exactly loaded with surefire contenders, so if those big names stay healthy to pair with Dennis Allen’s defense, maybe a sneaky playoff run wouldn’t be crazy after all.
New Orleans Saints placekicker Blake Grupe’s ability to beat the clock with a 31-yard game-winning field goal during his preseason debut Sunday might have tricked viewers into thinking he was a veteran.
Superdome security apparently did not make that mistake.
Grupe said on Twitter he was questioned both before and after the game by security. Some members of security apparently believed the undrafted rookie, listed at 5-foot-7 and 156 pounds, was a fan.
“Stay humble. Thankful. Great team win!” Grupe wrote.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 26, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 24
Offensive spotlight: Justyn Ross is back in the spotlight. The former Clemson star went undrafted in 2022 due to his injury history and missed his rookie season after undergoing foot surgery, but he justified the training camp buzz surrounding him on Sunday. Ross caught two of his five targets, one for a score, in his first NFL game action. It wasn’t a flashy performance, but it was a reminder of everything Ross proved capable of as one of the best receivers in college football back in 2018 and 2019.
Defensive spotlight: Although he played only 13 snaps, linebacker Leo Chenal recorded two run stops and allowed two receiving yards on two targets into his coverage. It was a solid day for the second-year man in all facets, and he finished initial reviews as the Chiefs’ highest-graded defender.
2. THE KICKOFF RETURNS
The NFL has offered teams a lifeline on kickoff returns this season — allowing teams to fair catch the kickoff and place the ball at the 25-yard line.
A mountain of evidence suggests teams ought to take that lifeline, but the Chiefs are apparently ready to paddle their way through deep waters all alone instead. The evidence keeps building, by the way.
The Chiefs returned kickoffs to their own 24-, 6-, 28- and 11-yard line. Wasn’t a great day. Look, it makes all the sense in the world to return preseason kickoffs — you can practice a fair catch on your own time — but if the point of returning them is to provide something to evaluate, they ought to evaluate the point of the process too.
And that evaluation, including last season, would reach one conclusion: Just take the fair catch.
Chiefs Offensive Line Not in Sync Just Yet
The Chiefs are going to be among the league’s top Super Bowl contenders for as long as Patrick Mahomes remains healthy. If Mahomes misses significant time, though, Kansas City’s season could go south quickly.
The good news is that new backup Blaine Gabbert looked comfortable in the offense, going 4-of-8 for 59 yards and a touchdown. The backup QB position became a question mark when Chad Henne retired after the Super Bowl.
The bad news is that Kansas City’s new-look offensive line doesn’t appear ready for the regular season yet. The Chiefs have two new tackles in Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor, and the unit’s debut left something to be desired.
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All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor, who remains at odds with the Indianapolis Colts over his contract situation, is expected to return to training camp this week, according to coach Shane Steichen.
Taylor has been rehabilitating an ankle injury at an out-of-state facility since early last week, choosing to continue his recovery there rather than with team personnel. But Steichen said Sunday that Taylor will be back in the coming days.
“He should be back this week,” Steichen said. “Do I know the exact date he’ll be back? No, but he should be back.”
Hamlin played in the Bills’ preseason Week 1 win over the visiting Indianapolis Colts at Highmark Stadium, seeing action on 24 snaps and recording three tackles.
“It was fun, it was super fun, it was a great experience, just another milestone and a step up to just getting back to myself as far as the football space,” Hamlin said after the game. “Just chopping this tree down as much as I can, one step at a time.”
While Hamlin tabbed the afternoon as a fun one, Bills head coach Sean McDermott had a bit of stronger take.
“What we just witnessed, to me, is remarkable,” McDermott said. “It really is. It’s a true sign of a young man’s courage and, obviously, everyone that helped him get to this point. I know there’s a football game going on out there today, but I mean, truly remarkable display of courage and strength and faith. Had a chance to communicate with Damar a little bit last night, and he assured me he was ready to go and was going to trust in his preparation and God, and I think that shows a lot about who he is.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
Offense (Ron Kopp Jr. )
We didn’t see much of Kansas City’s starting offense. The first-string offense only got six plays together — all on an opening drive that ended with a failed fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak. On third down, quarterback Patrick Mahomes got impatient in a clean pocket, where he could’ve waited for tight end Travis Kelce to come open along the sideline.
The second wave of offense gave us a few more highlights. Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert zoned in on wide receiver Richie James on the fourth drive of the game, hitting him on a downfield vertical for 43 yards — and then finding him on a corner route in the end zone. Each was out in front of James, who made a good impression by bringing them in. We already know what he can do as a slot receiver, so it’s nice to see him doing things downfield, too.
Rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice may have played more than any other receiver, finding time on the opening possession and playing all the way into the third quarter. While he had one drop, he also had two strong catches, absorbing contact right after (or right as) he secured the pass. He also popped off the screen on a quick pass where he gained 13 yards after the catch.
Wide receiver Justyn Ross also had a moment that stood out: coming out of a hitch route, he stiff-armed a cornerback into the ground on the way to a 14-yard gain. Later in that quarter, he ran a post route from the slot, finding a void between defenders to nab a touchdown reception. Both before and after the catch, his size will be an asset.
Wide receiver Richie James: On one drive in the second quarter, James caught two of three passes, including a 43-yarder where he adjusted to an underthrown pass into tight coverage. Then, he caught a wide-open touchdown, where the defenders were unable to stay with him after a pick route. There shouldn’t be many left who are sleeping on James, and after that drive on Sunday, everyone should be aware of his value to this offense.
Cornerbacks Kahlef Hailassie and Ekow Boye-Doe: Two 2023 tryout signees showed they belong on the NFL field. Hailassie and Boye-Doe had four tackles each and competed in coverage all afternoon. Boye-Doe added a pass defensed and a spectacular interception. Both of these guys face long odds when it comes to the 53-man roster but look like excellent candidates for the practice squad.