Patrick Mahomes is more than a golden arm, and we knew that already, but here it came on full display again anyway.
The talent. Mahomes connected with Sammy Watkins on a relatively simple crossing route. Watkins made one cut, and with the help of a key downfield block by Demarcus Robinson — a terrific downfield blocker — he sprinted away from the defense on a 68-yard touchdown.
The play-calling. The Chiefs’ second drive turbo’d toward the end zone when a series of fakes and confusion left Travis Kelce so open he might’ve felt lonely.
The toughness. Mahomes took hit after hit from a Jaguars defense that appeared hellbent on winning through bullying. He even went to the injury tent for a short time with what looked like a lower leg or ankle injury. He missed no snaps, however, and finished with 378 yards and three TDs on 25 of 33 passing as the Chiefs won 40-26.
The coaching. Reid appeared to drastically change his strategy after Mahomes was hurt — and, notably, Tyreek Hill left with a shoulder injury — from a futuristic onslaught of weapons to a death-by-a-thousand-papercuts plan to keep Mahomes healthy and avoid turnovers.
That’s just too much.
The Chiefs played here in what was forecast to be record heat, with perhaps their second-most important player out for nearly three quarters, and their quarterback’s mobility and power limited by injury. Jacksonville, it should be added, boasts talent and toughness on every level of its defense.
Here are some more early thoughts:
Hill’s injury is the most critical short-term question coming out of here.
The Chiefs offense is too good and too diverse to be crippled by any single injury with the exception of Mahomes. But Hill is uniquely talented, and those talents are a unique fit for Reid’s brain and Mahomes’ arm.
If he’s out for a few games the Chiefs’ offense shouldn’t be limited, necessarily. But it would be different.
Hill’s importance is not just in his own production, but in the way it forces unwelcomed decisions on defenses. Safeties are more inclined to play deep, for instance, which creates more space and opportunities for Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce in the middle.
The Chiefs’ offense remains fast. Mecole Hardman would figure to see more snaps. But that production wouldn’t just spill over to others in Hill’s absence. The Chiefs would have to find different ways to attack.
The Chiefs were called for just five penalties. That’s an easy thing to overlook, but for all the talk of discipline Reid’s Chiefs have typically been among the league’s most penalized.
It’s particularly notable here because much of the Jags’ game plan (on both sides of the ball) appeared to center around intimidation and bullying. For what it’s worth this is as sound a strategy as anything else, especially for a defense, because of the Chiefs’ reliance on timing and speed.
But it didn’t work here. Myles Jack, an important part of the middle of that defense, was ejected early in the second quarter for throwing a punch at the head of a man wearing scientifically advanced head protection.
The Chiefs had some offsetting penalties that aren’t counted in the official number, including some personal fouls. But, still. Worth noting.
The defense looked ... better. Honestly, this is much more than I was expecting, especially this early. They tackled well, showed toughness against Leonard Fournette, and made plays in the red zone that last year’s group often could not.
I expected more of a pass rush. Frank Clark did not appear to be close to the quarterbacks, though in his defense the Jags consistently used more than one man on him.
But we remember last year, when the Chiefs led the league in sacks and stunk anyway. I’m looking forward to watching this game again to get a better idea of how new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo did it.
The most obvious difference: tackling, which we talked about after the last preseason game.
I’m not sure what to make of Sammy Watkins. This was his most prolific game in the NFL, and as always some of that is a credit to scheme and quarterback, but he also did a lot of it on his own.
He’s always had this type of talent, and with defenses further stretched to cover all the other threats Watkins may be in line for big games.
The first touchdown came on a lightning cut upfield, and the third on a tough move that appeared to be ad-libbed in sync with Mahomes. We talk a lot about receivers needing rapport with their quarterbacks. Maybe this is Watkins developing that with Mahomes.
As always, plenty more coming from the game column after we get back up from the locker room. Facebook Live, too. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.