The long-anticipated return of All-Pro safety and emotional leader Eric Berry finally arrived on Thursday night, but it certainly came in a measured manner for the Chiefs.
After making his first on-field appearance in a game since the 2017 season opener against the New England Patriots, Berry has now played 30 defensive snaps in the last 29 regular-season games — throw in the postseason and it’s 30-for-30.
Berry missed the final 15 games of last season with an Achilles injury. He participated in a few days of training camp this summer before being sidelined with a heel injury.
Berry, who started the game, did not play in the second half of Thursday night’s 29-28 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Berry made six tackles in the 30 plays he spent on the field.
“It felt pretty good,” Berry said after the game. “I got a few different looks I couldn’t get at practice. I felt like we handled them well as a defense. Short week, but I think we did pretty well.”
Berry wouldn’t say whether he was on a specific snap count or the idea had been for him to only play in the first half. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Berry got his “reps” in the first half and then they backed off. He also said the plan was to “see how he felt as we went.”
“It just felt right this week,” Berry said of the timing of his return. “Just sitting around and talking to my parents and talking to the coaches and the staff, it just felt like this was a good time to come in and get something going.”
The Chiefs have clinched a playoff spot but could still end up as the top seed or the fifth seed. They have two more games left in the regular season, including this coming weekend’s final road game against the Seattle Seahawks.
“I thought he did OK,” Reid said. “I thought he did good. He hasn’t had pads on since training camp and that was only for a couple of days there, so it’s kind of expected. Nice and slow with it. That’s kind of where we are at. We didn’t expect him to play the whole Game.”
Mahomes making history: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes remains the only offensive player aside from right tackle Mitchell Schwartz to play every snap this season. Mahomes finished Thursday’s game with a 110.3 passer rating, his 11th game this season with a rating of 100 or better (a franchise record).
Mahomes threw two touchdown passes to bring his season total to 45. He tied Tom Brady for the third-most touchdown passes thrown threw 14 games in NFL history. He’s already set the franchise single-season record, and he’s now one of six players to throw 45 touchdown passes or more in a season.
Both of Mahomes’ touchdown passes on Thursday night came in the Chiefs’ 14-point first quarter. They scored just 14 points the remainder of the game.
“They have a good defense,” Mahomes said. “When you don’t execute and you get penalties, that stalls out drives. We got some scores, but whenever we needed to move the ball at the end we didn’t execute.”
Mixing it up: For those theorizing how the return of Berry would impact the playing time of the other safeties, Ron Parker sill played every defensive snap of Thursday’s game.
Meanwhile, safety Dan Sorensen went from having played every defensive snap, including overtime against the Ravens to playing 64 percent (47 snaps) on Thursday night. Sorensen also plays linebacker in the dime package.
Eric Murray, who started at safety while both Berry and Sorensen were injured, played just 23 percent of the time (17 snaps).
Receiving help: With Sammy Watkins out and Tyreek Hill playing on an injured foot, Chris Conley led the wide receiving corps in snaps on Thursday night. Conley’s 57 snaps represent 95 percent of the offensive plays. Hill played 54 snaps. The two combined for just six catches.
Recently acquired receiver Kelvin Benjamin made his debut as a Chief. He played 12 snaps and made one catch for 17 yards and was targeted twice.
Tight end Travis Kelce played every offensive snap and led the offense with seven catches.
Fifty reaches 100: Outside linebacker Justin Houston, who wears jersey No. 50, played his 100th game as a member of the Chiefs (94 starts). He made 5 tackles, two quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks on Thursday night.
Outside linebacker Dee Ford (72 snaps), defensive end Allen Bailey (55 snaps) and defensive end Chris Jones (51 snaps) and Houston (67 snaps) each played 69 percent of the total defensive snaps (74) or more, a sign of how often the Chiefs were in nickel and dime packages.
In passing situations, the Chiefs will shift out of their 3-4 alignment into a four-man front with Houston and Ford as edge rushers and Bailey and Jones rushing up the middle. As a result of the prevalence of those sub packages, nose tackles Xavier Williams and Derrick Nnadi combined to play just 44 snaps.