The postseason’s preseason game went mostly as you’d expect. There were three goals. The first was to get one guy his individual statistics — and the paycheck that would go with with it. Done. The second was to see some signs of progress from some younger players. Also done. Then the third was to escape without injuries. Yeah... maybe not so much.
There were a few big plays, another strong defensive performance and some field goals. At the end of the day, the Chiefs were 11-6 — and seem to be having fun on their way to the playoffs.
Here are a few who stood out as Kansas City defeated Los Angeles 13-12.
Wide receiver Mecole Hardman: It’s not just that Hardman led the team in targets, receptions, yards and yards per catch. He also showed some real fight for contested catches — along with burst after the catch that could translate to the postseason. Sure... there were a couple of mistakes that may limit some of the enthusiasm around Hardman’s performance — such as stepping out before another big catch and stopping on a route that ended up being intercepted. But if he’s making explosive plays, it might OK to accept some of the bad to go along with the good.
Defensive lineman Chris Jones: It’s safe to say that Jones is motivated by money — and that his teammates are motivated to see him succeed. Jones came into the game needing a half-sack to reach 10 for the season, which would generate a seven-figure bonus. It took some doing. He got numerous pressures (and four quarterback hits) as he repeatedly came close to sacks. Ultimately, Jones played into the third quarter before he finally put the Chargers’ Easton Stick on the ground. With other veterans resting, it was clear that head coach Andy Reid wanted to get Jones out of the game before something bad happened, so it was good to see him get it done — and it was great to see the entire team celebrating with him.
The other defensive linemen — Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Tershawn Wharton, Neil Farrell, B.J. Thompson and Malik Herring: Even without some of its starters, the Kansas City defense was — once again — mostly fantastic. Each of these players had a tackle-for-loss, a sack, a quarterback hit or a batted pass. They all took advantage of their chance to showcase their abilities — and the results were pretty promising.
Safety Mike Edwards: The fifth-year veteran made the longest play of Kansas City’s season. Charles Omenihu’s forced fumble bounced right into Edwards’ hands — and he ran 97 yards for a touchdown. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety is known to have a nose for the football — and Sunday’s big play will do nothing to diminish his reputation.
Safety Deon Bush: Considering that this was a “meaningless” game without postseason implications, there were a bunch of massive hits. Many of those came from Bush, a special teams ace who was recently activated from the practice squad to avoid the weekly call-up routine. Unfortunately, he went down hard in the waning minutes and had to get medical attention. Hopefully, he’ll have more opportunities to stand out.
Linebacker Cam Jones: The rookie got a long audition in this one — and responded by being all over the field. With 12 tackles — 11 of them solo — it sure looked like Jones belongs on an NFL field.
Tight end Travis Kelce: It was a little sad that our favorite celebrity boyfriend was unable to hit 1,000 yards for an astounding eighth straight season. But in the grand scheme of things, the 16 yards he needed doesn’t matter — but the week of rest might matter a lot. On Sunday, the Detroit Lions’ young tight end Sam LaPorta went down with a knee injury. LaPorta and Kelce had (somewhat) similar statistics this season — and the young tight end’s injury could cost him (and his team) dearly in the postseason. So I think that Reid and Kelce came to the right conclusion: to focus on the long-term goals rather than individual stats.
The Chiefs offensive line depth chart: In a game like this one, you don’t want to see injuries — which is precisely why most veterans are on the bench for them. But the offensive line generally still plays in these games; you just have to hope for the best. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, both of their starting tackles went down with injuries. Wanya Morris has a concussion and Jawaan Taylor had a leg injury. Hopefully, neither injury will put them in jeopardy for the playoffs.
Wide receiver Justyn Ross: The most anticipated player in this game didn’t accomplish much with his extended opportunity, getting two catches for 17 yards on four targets. One was even an impressive play where he went up and got a high pass from Blaine Gabbert. But unfortunately, Ross left the game with a hamstring injury. At this point, the Ross dream is hanging on by the thinnest of threads.
The Chiefs’ defense against running quarterbacks: This could be the Achilles heel of an otherwise stellar Kansas City defense, which lived in the Chargers’ backfield on Sunday, holding their running backs to just 29 rushing yards. But quarterback Easton Stick nearly set a franchise record with 77 rushing yards, converting a number of first downs. Whether it’s the Buffalo Bills or Baltimore Ravens — or whichever team Kansas City faces in the postseason — teams could find significant success with quarterback runs against Steve Spagnuolo’s aggressive defense.
Note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.