The Detroit Lions have upset the defending champions in the NFL season opener, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs 21-20 in a thriller at Arrowhead Stadium on Friday [AEST].
Patrick Mahomes did he all he could without star tight end Travis Kelce but four drops from receiver Kadarius Toney — including one that led to a pick-six — summed up Kansas City’s night.
It was a nightmare outing for Toney, one of Kansas City’s most electric offensive weapons, who finished with one receiving yard and negative one rushing yard.
Mahomes completed 21 of 39 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — although Toney was more at fault for that interception that the star quarterback.
While Kelce usually soaks up the targets, Mahomes and the Chiefs spread the ball around as he tried to find a consistent option to go to through the air.
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Unfortunately for Kansas City, Mahomes couldn’t really lock in on that one guy as running back Isiah Pacheco ended up leading the team in receptions with four.
Detroit quarterback Jared Goff, meanwhile, equally looked frustrated at times in the face of a swarming Kansas City defence that pressured him all night.
But a few huge catches from Josh Reynolds — the kind that Toney couldn’t reel in — and a charging run from David Montgomery put the Lions ahead late.
Goff ended the night completing 22 of 35 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown, with trusty wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown his top target while rookie tight end Sam LaPorta also impressed.
Detroit made its intentions clear early too after Dan Campbell took a huge gamble with a fake punt on the fourth-and-2 on their own 20-yard line.
Instead the Lions kept the ball and were able to get the first down, continuing the drive and working their way into the red zone as Goff eventually found his top target.
The touchdown for star receiver St. Brown capped off a methodical 14-play, 91-yard drive for the Lions, who took an early 7-0 lead after 10 minutes.
For Mahomes and the Chiefs, the biggest challenge was finding a reliable weapon to step up in the receiving game with Kelce unable to take the field.
Kelce injured his knee during Tuesday’s practice and both NFL insider Jordan Schultz and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that he had tried to push to play ahead of the game.
The issue isn’t expected to keep Kelce off the field for long, according to Rapoport.
It was, however, enough to sideline Kelce for the first time since his rookie season in 2023.
While second-year receiver Skyy Moore was expected to see more work with Kelce injured, it was rookie Rashee Rice who had a dream start to his NFL career.
Mahomes flashed his ability as a dual-threat quarterback throughout the drive, first finding Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 14-yard completion before scrambling 16 yards for another first down.
Mahomes then connected with Rice for his first catch and score in the NFL to tie the game up at 7-all nearing halftime.
But there was still time for more Mahomes magic, with a few chunk completions to Rice and Valdes-Scantling putting the Chiefs back in the red zone as the superstar Kansas City quarterback found Blake Bell open for the go-ahead touchdown.
It capped off an impressive drive from Mahomes without Kelce, completing 12 of 17 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns while rushing four times for 27 yards.
It is not just Kelce though who is unavailable for Kansas City.
The Chiefs were also without a key player in their defensive unit as tackle Chris Jones remains a contract holdout, hoping for a better deal.
Jones, 29, was part of a career-high 44 tackles and matched his career best with 15.5 sacks, starting every game in his seventh NFL season, all with Kansas City.
The Chiefs’ defence though had largely done well to shut down the Detroit run game that was expected to be its biggest weapon with rookie Jahmyr Gibbs joining new recruit Montgomery.
The Lions, however, were gifted the opening touchdown of the third quarter when Toney dropped a Mahomes pass that sat up for Brian Branch to race away to score.
It was a particularly costly mistake given Detroit was otherwise looking lost for answers on offence, with back-to-back field goals then giving Kansas City a 20-14 lead in the fourth.
Eventually though the Lions put together their best drive of the night as a few big catches from Josh Reynolds ended with a bruising Montgomery run for the touchdown.
That saw Detroit go up 21-20 with the successful extra point from Riley Patterson and it proved to be enough as the Lions’ defence stood tall to deny Mahomes and the Chiefs.
This content was originally published here.