Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines grew up less than 20 miles from Arrowhead Stadium and left more than 30 tickets at will call for family and close friends Sunday before the Governor’s Cup showdown versus the Chiefs.
Playing at Arrowhead isn’t exactly new for Gaines, a Kansas City native and Fort Osage graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management from Missouri last December.
In fact, before the Chiefs thumped the Rams 34-7 on Sunday, Gaines’ team were undefeated in three previous appearances at Arrowhead.
Gaines, who rooted for the Raiders growing up, played two games with Missouri against archrival Kansas — a 35-7 win in 2010 and a 24-10 victory in 2011.
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Gaines’ Pop Warner team also won the Truman Bowl, something of a little league football Super Bowl, as a preteen.
Facing the Chiefs, was an altogether different experience for Gaines.
“I’ve been here a couple times, but playing at this level, playing in your hometown, it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said.
Gaines, a two-time all-state performer during his high school days at Fort Osage, made his seventh straight start to begin his NFL career and established a new career high with eight tackles, including seven solo tackles.
Opponents had targeted Gaines 29 times, completing 16 passes for an average gain of 10.9 yard with one touchdown entering Sunday. He also had six pass deflections, an interception and a fumble recovery this season.
“I’m off to an OK start,” Gaines said. “I’ve had a lot of mistakes out there, being a rookie, being a young guy. My teammate pick me up. They understand that I’m young. With that being said, they still expect me to play like a vet and limit those mistakes.”
Gaines spent Sunday afternoon matched up with Dwayne Bowe and also shadowed fellow rookie De’Anthony Thomas a few times, but his professional hometown debut turned into a long day — especially a particularly rough drive late in the first quarter.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith fumbled as he scrambled toward the home sideline and Gaines had a chance to recover the ball.
Trying to scoop it rather than fall on it, Gaines knocked it out of bounds instead and the Chiefs maintained possession.
Two plays later, Smith floated a ball for A.J. Jenkins over the middle on third-and-7 from midfield.
Gaines made a diving attempt at an interception, but the ball hit the ground. He also was flagged for illegal contact anyway, keeping the Chiefs’ drive alive.
Later on that same march, tight end Travis Kelce sent Gaines sprawling when he faked a turn outside then cut upfield instead before getting tackled 9 yards later just shy of the goal line.
“They get paid too, so they’re going to make plays,” Gaines said. “That’s the reality of the game, but I also expect to make plays myself.”
Jamaal Charles tied the game one snap later with a 1-yard touchdown plunge, kicking off a run of 34 straight unanswered points by the Chiefs.
“There were a couple missed tackles and things like that, so those are the things I’m saying I’ve got to fix,” Gaines said. “Those are the plays I’ve got to make for this defense.”
Gaines later had a personal foul for “spearing the quarterback” when Smith scrambled 15 yards on third-and-13 early in the third quarter.
Smith dove head first and Gaines didn’t appear to lead with his helmet, but the officials declined to pick up the flag after a quick huddle.