KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs scored 34 points and won their season-opening game with ease, so everyone on their offense was certainly satisfied with the results.
But there’s little doubt things looked different. The Chiefs favored a short passing attack, with Patrick Mahomes‘ longest completion being 19 yards. He was efficient with three touchdown passes, but all three were 6 yards or less.
In another change, the Chiefs relied heavily on their running game and rookie back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs ran on 34 of their 67 plays, the first time with Mahomes as the starting quarterback that they ran by design more than they dropped back to pass. Edwards-Helaire’s 138 yards was the most by a Chiefs runner in a Mahomes start.
So was this a one-time thing or is the big-play Chiefs offense evolving?
“I personally think this offense has its own unique ability to do something special,” said tight end Travis Kelce, who had one of the touchdown catches. “We have a lot of guys that can do some special things with the ball in their hands. And of course [Mahomes] is going to be back there doing his thing.”
The opener’s circumstances dictated at least some of the way the Chiefs played. The Houston Texans, still stinging from the nine passes of 20 or more yards they allowed against the Chiefs last year in the playoffs, were determined to eliminate the big play. Mahomes was content to take the shorter passes available beneath the coverage.
Mahomes averaged 2.35 seconds on his passes, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That’s the lowest rate of his career. He was 15-of-18 with two touchdowns within 2.5 seconds of the snap.
Mahomes also averaged 4.5 air yards on his passes, also the lowest of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Of his 24 completions, 21 were caught within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
“[The Texans] did a lot of stuff at the line of scrimmage and then they kind of stayed back and kept safeties back and they put a guy over [Tyreek Hill] pretty much the whole entire game,” Mahomes said. “I think that’s what it makes this offense so good is we can change within games. We can go through our game plan and find ways to score and find ways to move the ball down the field and today it was running the football and taking the short passes.
“I think whenever we get to the Chargers next week, we’ll play another great defense, and we’ll have to find a way to move the ball and score that week as well.”
The Chiefs also had leads against the Texans of 24-7 early in the third quarter and 31-7 early in the fourth, making a steady feed to Edwards-Helaire the smart play.
But his addition makes the Chiefs different. They had no back with his abilities last season. Damien Williams led the Chiefs with 498 rushing yards last season and Edwards-Helaire is already about one-quarter of the way to that total.
“He’s been doing it since the day he got here,” Mahomes said. “He’s been working hard, he’s been learning from his mistakes and he’s been running the ball between the tackles and catching out of the backfield.
“I thought the offensive line did a great job of giving him holes to run through and he hit it every single time and so, he’s going to keep getting better. It’s another weapon that I kind of have in this offense and we’re going to keep doing whatever we can to keep moving the ball and scoring touchdowns.”
That doesn’t mean the Chiefs intended for Edwards-Helaire to be such a big part of the offense.
“I feel like he’s had a good camp and he’s a heck of a player and we wanted to give him the ball, but we didn’t come in saying he’s going to get ‘X’ number of carries,” coach Andy Reid said. “But we liked the mix we were able to get going with.”
The Chiefs had 10 players with 100-yard receiving games last season, counting the postseason. They had six receivers with multiple touchdown games.
They had none of that against the Texans. But Kelce, Hill and Sammy Watkins each had at least five catches and a touchdown.
Edwards-Helaire had the other touchdown on a 27-yard run.
“This group has been together for awhile now and we know the intentions of the playcaller,” Kelce said. “That’s the biggest thing, understanding what coach Reid and [offensive coordinator Eric] Bieniemy are dialing up for so we can paint a picture for Patrick and execute the plays.
“We just trust whatever coach Reid is dialing up. No matter whose job it is to make a play, we’re making a play.”
Tennessee Titans’ Stephen Gostkowski redeemed with 25-yard winner after 4 misses
Gostkowki’s meltdown almost cost the Titans the season opener against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. Tennessee’s win over the host Broncos was much closer than it should have been after Gostkowski missed three field goals and an extra point, leaving 10 points on the board.
Entering the game, the 15th-year veteran had never missed three field goals in one game. Gostkowski was off the mark from 47 and 42 yards and saw a 44-yard attempt blocked. He has now missed an extra point attempt in four consecutive games.
While with the Patriots last season, Gostkowski made 7 out of 8 field goal attempts before being placed on injured reserve last October. The Patriots released Gostkowski in March. The 36-year -kicker underwent hip surgery during the offseason and was picked up by the Titans.
Tennessee signed Gostkowski to a one-year, $2.75 million deal in a move that was supposed to shore up its kicking game. To make room for Gostkowski, the Titans released kicker Greg Joseph 11 days before the season opener.
Per ESPN Stats & Information research, the Titans are 1-for-9 on field goal attempts over their past nine regular-season game. Tennessee made only 44.4% of its field goal attempts last season, more than 20% worse than the closest team (Jets, 67.9%). That’s also the only time since 2001 that a team made fewer than 60% of its field goal attempts
Fresh off win, Ben Roethlisberger ‘just so excited’ to be leading Pittsburgh Steelers yet again
Playing for the first time in a year since the 2019 season-ending elbow injury sustained in Week 2, Roethlisberger completed 21 of 32 passes for 229 yards and 3 touchdowns – and an 11-yard keeper for a first down.
With his third touchdown pass of the night – and second to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Roethlisberger notched his 366 career touchdown, setting a franchise record and tying Eli Manning for eighth-most in NFL history.
“I am just so excited, I am just thankful,” Ben Roethlisberger told ESPN’s Maria Taylor in his postgame interview. “I told the guys in the locker room before the game that I’m back because of them. I don’t need to accomplish anything personally anymore. It’s about being with a defense that I think is as good as any I have ever played with, skill guys that are young and fun to play with and then, of course my line, who I love to death and they love me.
“They are the reason I came back to play.”
It wasn’t the most auspicious start for Roethlisberger, 38, when he threw up a lateral to James Conner under pressure for no gain, ending his first series back after three plays. But Roethlisberger slowly got into a rhythm, finding Smith-Schuster for an 11-yard gain on the next series. That gave the quarterback and his offense a little life as he went on to connect with rookie Chase Claypool on a 28-yard toe-tapping reception to convert a third-and-long. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal on that drive, but a quarter later, Roethlisberger found the end zone when he hit Smith-Schuster for a 10-yard touchdown, capitalizing on T.J. Watt‘s interception of Daniel Jones in Giants’ territory.
Roethlisberger looked most like his old self in an abbreviated two-minute drill just before halftime, leading the Steelers on an eight-play, 78-yard drive capped with touchdown throw to James Washington where the third-year wide receiver muscled his way into the end zone for the score. Just before that drive, Roethlisberger stood on the sideline between drives with a jacket transformed into a wrap for his surgically repaired elbow to keep him loose and warm.
After a scoreless third quarter, Roethlisberger got his team on the board yet again with a field-goal drive followed by a long 11-play, 75-yard drive finished with Smith-Schuster’s second touchdown to seal the victory on his return.
The veteran quarterback did it with a new-look offensive line, including an entirely different right side than the one he last played behind. Zach Banner won the right tackle job out of training camp, while Stefen Wisniewski replaced the injured David DeCastro at right guard. But both left late in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and pectoral injury, respectively.
The Steelers also finished the game without starting running back James Conner, who was ruled questionable to return with an ankle injury late in the fourth quarter, but didn’t play after early in the second.
Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay — NFL’s mask warning ‘directed at me’
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay says he’s likely responsible for the NFL memo sent Monday to reinforce that coaches must wear face coverings at all times on the sidelines during games, and threatening discipline for those who don’t comply.
“I figured that memo was directed at me,” McVay said Monday evening during a video conference with reporters.
On Sunday, during a season opening victory over the Dallas Cowboys in front of a Sunday Night Football television audience, McVay roamed the sideline with his mask mostly worn under his chin, a clear violation of the league’s coronavirus safety protocol.
“I’ve been getting blasted all day about it, so I just love it,” McVay said, a bit tongue-in-cheek, before continuing in a more serious tone. “I will do better.”
In contrast to McVay, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, when shown on the broadcast, appeared to wear his mask throughout the 2 hour, 56 minute game.
McVay says he’s uncertain if he’ll stick with a face mask or potentially wear a neck gaiter when the Rams play the Eagles in Philadelphia next Sunday. A face shield, like the one Kansas City coach Andy Reid wore in the Chiefs’ opener that fogged up, seems to be a non-starter for McVay.
“I was definitely one of the main culprits of not following what the league wants,” McVay said. “I will definitely be aware of that and do better.”
The league’s coronavirus safety protocol says that anyone with bench area access, excluding players, must wear masks on game day, and that the mask must fit securely across the nose and mouth to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert contributed to this article.
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