Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes Need Travis Kelce Back—Fast!


On Thursday night, the Chiefs dropped their championship banner.

Then they spent the rest of the night dropping everything else.

In the NFL’s season opener, the Lions came into GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium and upset the Super Bowl champions, 21–20, led in large part by Kansas City’s inability to catch a pass or convert third downs.

With tight end Travis Kelce sidelined by a hyperextended knee sustained in Tuesday’s practice, Patrick Mahomes and the offense fell flat in the game’s biggest moments.

The Chiefs began the night 5-of-7 on third down after ranking second in the league last season at a 48.7 percent clip.

Toney dropped a Mahomes pass, tipping it into the air and right into the hands of Lions rookie safety Brian Branch, who returned the interception 50 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

In the second half, they went 0-of-7. They went as follows:

  • 3rd-and-10 (13:38, 3rd): Two-yard Noah Gray reception.
  • 3rd-and-6 (10:54, 3rd): Pick-six off Kadarius Toney’s hands.
  • 3rd-and-4 (8:55, 3rd): Incomplete deep pass to Skyy Moore.
  • 3rd-and-2 (2:18, 3rd): Drop on a crossing route by Toney.
  • 3rd-and-2 (12:23, 4th): Short pass dropped by Jerick McKinnon.
  • 3rd-and-1 (6:32, 4th): Jet sweep from Blake Bell to Rashee Rice, loss of three.
  • 3rd-and-20 (2:14, 4th): Incompletion deep to Rice, thrown into coverage.

Add it up and Kansas City gave away seven points and short-circuited two drives inside Detroit’s 25-yard line, settling for field goals.

This is where Kelce’s absence impacted the Chiefs most.

Last year, the future first-ballot Hall of Famer notched 78 first downs on 110 receptions. Only Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson moved the chains more with 80.

“You’re losing, I think, the best tight end of all time,” said Mahomes on the impact of Kelce’s absence after the game. “Other guys have to step up. It’s going to have an impact on the game but other guys have to step up. They’re going to have to step up in moments because I’m sure there are going to be times when [Kelce] gets doubled. Just going to have to rely on those other guys who are young and talented to step up and make plays. I believe that they will.”

Another notable problem on third down? The distances.

The Chiefs failed on three consecutive third downs of two yards or fewer, throwing twice and then faking a tight end sneak on the sweep to Rice.

Short yardage has long bedeviled Reid, who has eschewed the traditional quarterback sneak since Mahomes was injured on it against the Broncos in 2019. Instead of going with the highest percentage play in football, the Chiefs have consistently attempted nontraditional avenues, which has led to struggles on third-and-short dating back years.

“We work on it,” Mahomes said. “We work on it every year. We’ve obviously emphasized it after last year not converting at the rate we wanted to. Obviously, we’ve got to keep working on it because we didn’t convert in those situations today.”

In the postgame, I asked Reid about the struggles on third down and particularly whether he would consider his stance on not using Mahomes (or any other quarterback) to fall forward for a yard. He answered part of the question, with his silence answering the other portion.

“We’ve got to get better,” Reid said of those situations. “We weren’t very good last year. We’ve spent a lot of time working on that, so we’ve got to keep going here and make sure we take care of it. I’ll take that. That’s my responsibility to get that taken care of.”

Then there’s the matter of Moore and Toney, both of whom garnered considerable national hype prior to the season, with many believing they could thrive in starting roles.

The initial result was hideous. Toney dropped four passes, including three which ended drives, and another which cost Kansas City field goal range on its final drive trailing by a point.

All told, Toney and Moore were targeted eight times. They combined for one reception and one yard.

Toney’s most egregious drop, however, came in the third quarter when he tipped a Mahomes pass up and right into the hands of Lions rookie safety Brian Branch, who returned the gift 50 yards for a touchdown, tying the game at 14 apiece.

Toney, who missed almost all of training camp with a knee injury and subsequent surgery, showed his rust. In defeat, Mahomes offered a vote of confidence to his third-year receiver who was repeatedly booed by the capacity crowd.

“I have trust in [Toney],” Mahomes said. “He missed a lot of training camp. Obviously, he wanted to play and fought rehab hard so he could play. Stuff isn’t always going to go your way. … I have trust that he’s going to be that guy that I go to in crucial moments, and he’s going to make the catch and win us some [games] like he did last year. We’re going to continue to work him in, get him more and more reps. I’m sure those drops will kind of disappear.”

As for Moore, he dropped a 4th-and-25 prayer on the Chiefs’ final offensive play, which would have not only extended the game but put Kansas City on the edge of kicker Harrison Butker’s range.

The decision to attempt such a daunting conversion seemed dubious in the moment, with the Chiefs in a seemingly impossible spot, holding three timeouts and backed up at their own 30-yard line.

Afterwards, Reid alluded to the defense being worn out, feeling there was a need to push for a Mahomes miracle, which he almost had answered.

Depending on your grade curve, the Chiefs dropped anywhere from six to eight passes.

“It’s unusual for us to drop that many passes, anywhere, any time,” Reid said. “We’ll go back and work on that. You’ve got to take care of business and these guys know that.”

The good news? Kelce will soon be back, perhaps even next week against the Jaguars. Toney and Moore will eventually catch a few passes. The long-term issue is likely not the drops, but the inability to create on third down beyond Kelce.

Leaving Arrowhead Stadium, many Chiefs players and fans must have been wondering how they dropped so many opportunities.

And, ultimately, dropped a very winnable game.


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