NFL: Mahomes’ misfortune on opening night  


After months of waiting, defending Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs took on the Detroit Lions in the NFL season opener Thursday night. The Lions came into Arrowhead Stadium and stunned the Chiefs 21-20, spoiling the celebration for Patrick Mahomes and co. Mahomes, the MVP of both the 2022-2023 NFL Season and Super Bowl LVII, was subjected to the first opening game loss of his career, leaving many fans to speculate on his up and down performance against Dan Campbell’s Lions. 

Before opening night even began, All-Pro tight end and Mahomes’ main pass-catching target Travis Kelce was ruled out with a knee injury by head coach Andy Reid, placing extra responsibility on the rest of the offense. For the first half, however, this didn’t seem to slow the Chiefs down. After punts by both teams to open the game, Mahomes and KC found themselves down 7-0 by the end of the 1st quarter, with QB Jared Goff leading the Lions’ offense to an impressive 14-play, 91-yard drive capped off by a nine-yard TD pass to star wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. Kansas City responded in the 2nd quarter with Mahomes finding rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice from one yard out, leveling the score after a 15-play 75-yard drive. After a Detroit fumble by wideout Marvin Jones Jr. on the opposing 14-yard line, Kansas City was put in prime position to take their first lead, but they would have to punt just four plays later. After the Lions offense stalled, Mahomes led a rapid 1:28 eight-play 92-yard drive, finished by a four-yard TD pass to replacement tight end Blake Bell, to put Kansas City up 14-7 by the end of the first half. Although not always perfect, Mahomes settled into a nice rhythm through one half of football with 147 passing yards and two touchdowns despite the absence of Kelce. 

To begin the third quarter, however, disaster struck for Mahomes and the Chiefs offense, with the star Kansas City quarterback throwing a 50-yard pick-six to Lions rookie safety Brian Branch, evening the score at 14-14. Many spectators blame this disastrous moment on Chiefs wide receiver and former Giants 1st round pick Kadarius Toney, who dropped the ball that ricocheted into the hands of the awaiting rookie. Dropped balls would be a continuous theme for the Kansas City receivers in the second half. Eight balls would slip through the hands of Chiefs receivers on Thursday night, with Toney accounting for four alone. Another receiver and prospective breakout candidate Skyy Moore would account for two missed opportunities, disappointing fans and fantasy managers who banked on his ascent by accounting for zero receptions and just four rushing yards. 

Following the Lions game-leveling pick-six and punts from both teams, Mahomes recomposed the KC offense, leading a nine-play drive to secure a 35-yard field goal by kicker Harrison Butker. After another Butker field goal to start the fourth quarter, the Chiefs would give the Lions the ball back up 20-14 with 12:11 to go. Goff and Detroit finally responded, marching 80 yards on a 12-play drive to regain the lead after an eight-yard TD run by offseason running back acquisition David Montgomery. Kansas City got the ball back down one with 7:06 remaining but would have to punt after a short five-play drive. Up 21-20, Goff and the Lions offense attempted to seal the game late in the fourth by going for it on fourth & two on the KC 45, but turned the ball over on downs after an incomplete pass. This seemingly gave Mahomes the perfect opportunity to perform his typical late game heroics. Following a brutal drop by Toney and a 10-yard holding penalty on OT Donovan Smith to start the possession, Mahomes would fire two straight incompletions to Moore and Rice, leaving the Chiefs with a fourth & 20 with 2:09 to go. With three timeouts in their pocket it seemed obvious that KC would punt the ball back to Detroit and give their defense an opportunity to stop the Lions. However, coach Reid left his offense on the field to go for it on fourth & 20 on their own 35, which would quickly become fourth & 25 after a false start by lineman Jawaan Taylor, whom many fans observed committing this same mistake uncalled for most of the game. After all this, Reid put his trust into his star quarterback, which quickly resulted in an incomplete deep pass to wideout Justin Watson. Detroit would get the ball deep in Chiefs territory and run the clock out with a few Montgomery runs and Goff kneels to get their first win of the NFL season. 

Where does this TNF upset leave Mahomes, Reid and the rest of Kansas City? Many fans observed a significant offensive decline without the help of superstar tight end Kelce and the departure of longtime offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to the Washington Commanders. Reid’s decision to kick field goals on two straight drives to end the third and begin the fourth has also drawn criticism, keeping the Lions well within striking range despite their offensive struggles. The KC running back committee was also poor, putting up just 45 rushing yards behind Isiah Pacheco’s 2.9 YPC and Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 3.7 YPC and zero involvement from pacey scat back Jerick McKinnon. Mahomes’ receivers certainly did him no favors, accounting for eight drops, but many critics still speculate if Mahomes is partly to blame for their second half struggles. At times in the second half, he seemed off-balance, erratic and indecisive, traits we’ve come to expect from lesser QBs but not from the reigning MVP. It appears the lack of elite weapons like Kelce and former Chiefs All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill (now in Miami) can seriously limit Mahomes against well-coached opponents. Nevertheless, I think this “embarrassing” loss, as Mahomes put it in his postgame press conference, will only revitalize the star quarterback’s drive and motivation to be the best player in the NFL, with or without Kelce and Hill. 

Mahomes and the Chiefs will have a chance to redeem themselves in week two on the road against Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

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