AP Photo/Ed Zurga
The first game of the Kansas City Chiefs’ latest title defense didn’t go the way they wanted. For the new Detroit Lions, things couldn’t be better.
Dan Campbell’s squad marched into Kansas City, made clutch plays on both sides of the ball and ended the game with a crucial first down to secure a 21-20 victory.
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that Kansas City is without its two biggest stars not named Patrick Mahomes.
Travis Kelce, who injured his knee during practice earlier in the week, is on the sideline. Star defensive tackle Chris Jones is in the stands instead of on the field as he continues to await a new contract.
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Chris Jones is at home amid his restricted contract 👀 pic.twitter.com/D8LKthiTRT
Despite Jones’ absence, the Chiefs defense played a respectable game. Detroit’s offense totaled 368 yards but only put 14 points on the board.
Kelce’s absence proved to be even more glaring. When Kansas City needs a big play in big moments, Mahomes hasn’t found a reliable target. Back-to-back drops, including one by Kadarius Toney that led to a pick-six to Brian Branch, will haunt the Chiefs in their long layoff before Week 2.
Mahomes did his part, often buying time in the pocket or picking up yards on the ground. But he never found a pass-catcher he could trust.
It could have been a different game with Kelce in the lineup. A game-changing play or two from Jones might have yielded a different result, too. With a tough road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on deck, Kansas City needs to get back into the lineup.
The Chiefs have yet to lose a season opener with Mahomes under center, but it’s not time to panic. Young players like cornerback Trent McDuffie, linebacker Nick Bolton, pass-rusher George Karlaftis and rookie receiver Rashee Rice have made their presence felt.
There is time for this team to come together, and most likely, Kelce and Jones will be back in the coming weeks. Traditionally, Kansas City is in the thick of the Super Bowl hunt this winter.
The Lions might as well. While the pair of missing superstars in Kansas City should be noted, the Chiefs at home on banner night provided one heck of a measure.
Dan Campbell’s unit shows it’s scale.
Detroit didn’t just pick up where it left off in 2022—a team that relied heavily on its offense to win eight of its last 10 games. It has a complete performance with strong contributions from new additions such as Branch, CJ Gardner-Johnson, David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs and Jack Campbell.
The Lions started it with a loud call from Campbell to run a fake punt deep in Detroit territory:
The Lions went on to score a touchdown on the drive and showed they were ready to hang with the Chiefs under the brightest spotlights.
We saw some of what we saw last year from Detroit. Amon-Ra St. Brown (6 catches, 71 yards, 1 TD) and Josh Reynolds (4 catches, 80 yards) had big games. Jared Goff (253 yards, 1 TD) had some clutch precision throws.
We also saw Montgomery and Gibbs bully the Chiefs on the ground, controlling the tempo and setting up the play-action. That new-look defense, led by Aidan Hutchinson, Gardner-Johnson, Branch and Campbell, did a solid job and took full advantage of Kansas City’s offensive miscues.
Kelce or no Kelce, holding an offense led by Mahomes to 20 points and a 33 percent conversion rate on third and fourth down is impressive.
This isn’t the same Detroit team that scratched the shootouts a year ago, and from here, the Lions will only grow into a more complete football team.
Rookie Gibbs (7 carries, 2 receptions) will see an expanded role in the game plan. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson will get more creative as he figures out what his lineup can do. Players like Campbell, Gardner-Johnson and Cameron Sutton will grow more comfortable in Aaron Glenn’s defense.
The Lions’ three-year turnaround is almost complete. In his inaugural campaign as head coach, Campbell helped build a passionate gritty team that just didn’t know how to win. In the second half of last season, the wins started coming.
This year, Detroit has the overall talent on the roster and the confidence to meet and possibly even exceed their rising expectations.
“We’re not afraid of expectations,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said Friday, per ESPN’s Eric Woodyard. “The expectations have been generated by, I think, what we have built and what we have done up to this point, how we finished the end of the season and through the process of our player acquisition. But now we have to prove – just say they are right.”
Detroit proved too much against the Chiefs on Thursday. Yes, Kansas City is short, but this is a high-pressure game that the 2022 Lions likely won’t win.
1-0 is 1-0. Detroit should be the clear favorite in the NFC North, and it faces the 13th easiest schedule in the league in terms of 2022 winning percentage (.495).
The Lions came into Week 1 as the newest NFL darlings. They have proven that they are more than that. They look like a legitimate threat to get out of the NFC and make a push to Super Bowl LVIII.