In the NFL, in every market, the final preseason game is roundly mocked. No one is watching, pundits and fans say; no one interesting is playing, everybody adds.
And to be fair, there’s some truth to both those statements. It’s a money grab for the league, sure, an opportunity to squeeze more gameday dollars from the fans who love the game so much.
But don’t tell any of that to those Chiefs who were tasked with soaking up the snaps in the team’s final preseason game on Thursday against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium — a 30-6 victory for the Chiefs. They are backups and journeymen, rookies and dreamers, men who in many cases were essentially fighting for their professional lives on Thursday, as a handful of jobs were on the line, coach Andy Reid later conceded.
“The first message to the players (today) was to make it as hard as you possibly can on us (to cut you), and in return, we’re going to give you an opportunity to show and have some film and build a resume for yourself,” Reid said. “One of the great things about this camp was that in this preseason game, these kids were able to get themselves on tape, so if they don’t make it with us, they have a chance to make it with somebody else.”
Second-year receiver Demarcus Robinson was one of the players who took the message to heart. Robinson was singled out as a potential standout by Reid months ago shortly after the surprising release of Jeremy Maclin. But over the past month, Robinson had done little to standout. Meanwhile, other young receivers — such as Seantavius Jones and Marcus Kemp — had done more, at least offensively.
But that was not the case on Thursday, as Robinson — a 6-foot-1, 203-pounder — showed off the electric vertical talent that caused the Chiefs to draft him in the fourth round last year, and hold on to him throughout the season in hopes of crafting that ability.
“I thought he started out strong in camp, then he went through, almost, a rookie lull,” Reid said. “Then I thought the last two weeks, he’s come on. He’s actually rotated with the ones this past week at practice, so for him to come out and have a day like he did today was good. He needed that.”
On Thursday, Robinson showed a strong connection with promising rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes early, as the two hooked up for a 53-yard bomb on a post route on their second offensive drive.
“There’s always a chance that if you get one early, you can get one later on down the line,” said Robinson, who finished the game with three catches for 127 yards and a touchdown but admitted he still didn’t know a big day was on tap after that catch.
The two would connect twice more in the first half, both for big gains. A few drives later, Mahomes started drifting to his right to avoid the rush and as — as he has shown he is prone to do — unchucked a heave 40-plus yards downfield to Robinson, who broke off his downfield route when he saw Mahomes scrambling and sprinted under it for a 46-yard gain that brought the crowd to its feet.
“That’s what he good at — throwing the ball downfield,” Robinson said of Mahomes. “We made a play.”
But that wouldn’t be the last play the two made, either, as the Chiefs closed the half with a 28-yard strike over the middle to Robinson that gave the Chiefs’ top backups a 13-3 halftime lead over the Titans backups before they ceded the game to third- and fourth-teamers.
Robinson logged a few snaps after the break, but he’d already registered the kind of eye-popping performance that can not only make games like this interesting, but also can swing a player’s destiny.
“He runs good, solid routes — he’s a strong player,” Reid said. “Experience would be the thing that he’s probably lacking there, but whatever he’s going to do is going to be 100 miles an hour.”
To be sure, Robinson wasn’t the only one to deliver in a similar vein. Fourth-round rookie Jehu Chesson has also been quiet, largely, throughout the preseason, but on his dashing 76-yard punt-return touchdown in the second quarter, he finally showed off the athleticism that popped during the predraft process and caused him to catch the Chiefs’ eye in the first place.
The list goes on and on. Receiver Tevin Jones showed off blazing speed on a 68-yard touchdown, while rookie fifth-round pick Ukeme Eligwe — who is in a battle for a roster spot at one of the team’s deepest positions, inside linebacker — showed that the knack he showed for pass coverage in camp was real, as he read Titans quarterback Alex Tanney’s eyes and tipped a pass in the air before hauling it in for an interception. Eligwe won’t be starting this year, but as a developmental inside linebacker — with special-teams chops, to boot — the interception demonstrates he could easily be a key piece at the back end of the 53-man roster.
That, by the way, is exactly what Robinson was last year, when he served as a special-teams gunner a year ago with a chance to compete for future playing time.
No matter what happens at the 53-man roster deadline — which is slated for 3 p.m. Saturday — his performance Thursday proved that dream still remains alive, and that opportunity, regardless of how fans feel about the fourth preseason game, means plenty to the men fighting for jobs.
“Man, it’s getting close to cut time,” Robinson said. “You’ve just to got to ball everyday and show what you can do and tonight, I was able to show what I can do.”