Travis Kelce watches an NFL game from the sidelines; Image: AP
The Kansas City Chiefs proved in their season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions on Thursday night that their defense can get by just fine without Chris Jones, at least for a while, as the All-Pro defensive tackle continues his holdout.
Travis Kelce is another matter.
While the Chiefs defense repelled the Lions all night, their perpetually high-scoring offense fizzled, undone by dropped passes, penalties and miscommunication. Patrick Mahomes looked a beat off, the offensive line played well until two significant penalties as the Chiefs tried to march for a go-ahead field goal, and just about everyone who had an opportunity to get their hands on the ball dropped it at least once, all leading to a 21-20 loss at Arrowhead Stadium.
Perhaps it would have turned out differently if Mahomes had Kelce, his All-Pro tight end and sure-handed security blanket, who missed the game after hyperextending his knee in practice two days earlier.
“I mean, you’re losing I think the best tight end of all time,” Mahomes said. “It’s going to have an impact on the game, but others guys have to step up, and they’re going to have to step up in moments, because I’m sure there will be times when he gets doubled, and so we’re just going to have to rely on guys that are young and talented to step up and make plays.”
Mahomes finished by saying, “I believe they will.” But they did little Thursday night to create a whole lot of confidence.
Noah Gray, who was first off the bench to replace Kelce, miscommunicated once with Mahomes and dropped his pass on another play. Jerick McKinnon, who rarely drops a pass, did so late in the game. Kadarius Toney not only had one bounce off his hands for a pick-6 but dropped what would have been a long gain as the Chiefs were driving for go-ahead points.
Hard to believe that Kelce would have dropped so many balls under any circumstances.
“Got to be better as an offense,” said Blake Bell, another Kansas City tight end. “Defense battled their tails off, played great. Offensively we’ve got to finish when we get down there and whatever it is — dropped balls — we’re just not scoring.”
Kelce tried to convince Chiefs coach Andy Reid and trainer Rick Burkholder to let him play, going through a series of drills earlier in the day. But he acknowledged some pain in the knee and Reid and Burkholder decided to give him the night off.
There is hope that the 10 days before the Chiefs’ next game in Jacksonville is enough to ensure Kelce is back on the field.
“I feel like we put ourselves in some bad situations. We didn’t execute. Couldn’t get conversions on third downs,” McKinnon said. “When you play against a good team you can’t do those things, and if you can’t come up with points, this is what happens.”
Mahomes provided some of the biggest highlights against Detroit not with his strong right arm but with his feet, and the fact that his scrambling topped a short list of things that were working is a bad sign. Mahomes ran six times for 45 yards, while the rest of the Chiefs combined for another 45 yards rushing but needed 17 carries to get them.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Chiefs have one of the league’s youngest secondaries and it showed when Lions ace Amon-Ra St. Brown diced it up. It would have helped to have Jones, who watched from a stadium suite, putting pressure on Jared Goff so that the defensive backfield did not have to cover for so long, but regardless, the Lions simply had too many guys wide open.
It’s not fair to say Kelce’s stock rose when he didn’t play, even though it may be true. Of those on the field, defensive end Mike Danna may have gotten the biggest bump by his performance. He had six tackles, a pass deflection and the Chiefs’ lone sack, and his ability to create a little bit of pressure was sorely needed.
Toney has had a rough couple months. He needed surgery after one practice at training camp for a torn meniscus in his knee, causing him to miss the entire preseason, and the rust was evident. Not only did Toney drop some high-pressure passes, he also was stuffed for a loss on second-and-2 at the Detroit 20 midway through the fourth quarter. And when McKinnon dropped a pass of his own on the next play, the Chiefs had to settle for a field goal that left them with a 20-14 lead.
The Chiefs came out of the game without any new injuries, one of the few bright spots for them on opening night.
1 — Mahomes lost for the first time in a season opener Thursday night. He also threw his first interception in a Week 1 game.
The Chiefs head to Jacksonville on Sept. 17.
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