September’s Kansas City Chiefs looked an awful lot like August’s Chiefs, who looked an awful lot like September 2013’s Chiefs: Fiesty, opportunistic and takeaway-happy on defense, quick and efficient in the passing game, carrying a streak of confidence wide enough to pave.
So there’s your takeaway from Sunday’s 27-20 win in Houston:
Perfection in the preseason? Real.
This roster, warts and all? Real.
Real enough to leave Texans coach Bill O’Brien cursing himself, quarterback Brian Hoyer and the football gods, not necessarily in that order. Real enough to force Hoyer into two crushing giveaways, the first a pick by Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters barely four minutes into the contest that set up a Travis Kelce touchdown pass; the second a fumble forced by outside linebacker Justin Houston that set up another scoring throw, this one from Alex Smith to tailback Jamaal Charles, that pushed the score to 27-6.
Real enough to make it look easy for three quarters.
Almost too easy.
Week 1 was a triumph of preparation and execution, the sort of top-to-bottom-of-the-roster victory — from Smith’s 22-for-33 passing day and Kelce’s 106 receiving yards to five sacks and the returns of Derrick Johnson, Mike DeVito and Eric Berry to the enthusiasm of the punt coverage team — that resonates. Time will tell if the Chiefs were that sharp or the Texans that discombobulated, and yet here’s the thing: It’s already time to move on.
Short week. Long smiles. A limitless sky.
The Broncos visit Thursday night in the home opener, a primetime dance between king and challenger, the chance to make a statement with a capital “S,” to tie up loose ends.
Because as good as Sunday went down the gullet, it wasn’t without hiccups. The foot slipped off the pedal a bit after the Andy Gang pushed the cushion to 27-9. Only three of 13 third-down opportunities were converted, which is forgiveable when the Hoyers and Malletts are piloting the opposing offense — when a Manning or Roethlisberger are at the controls, not so much.
Smith found Jeremy Maclin everywhere (five catches, 52 receiving yards) but in the end zone, although that last one’ll come. Charles gained just seven rushing yards on his first eight carries and the short-yardage situations too often wound up going the wrong way (32 team totes, 97 team yards on the ground).
But consider this, too: An offensive line with Mitch Morse, a rookie, at center; Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a medical student out of Quebec, at right guard; and Jah Reid, signed this past week off the street, at right tackle, allowed just two sacks to one of the best defensive front sevens on the planet. The Texans pounded J.J. Watt (two takedowns) and Vince Wilfork mercilessly at the right side of the pocket, and Smith — allegedly — still came away with his legs and spleen attached.
Congratulations, kids. Here’s your reward: DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller and Shane Ray, with four days to cowboy up.
Although as first impressions go, you’ll take it. Openers can fool you — the 2014 Chiefs weren’t as bad as they looked against Tennessee at this time a year ago, and the 2015 Jets probably aren’t as good as they looked Sunday against the Fighting Manziels — but a win on the road against another purported postseason contender looks sweet on the resume, no matter the context or the particulars. It sticks.
Week 1 will stick, too, a screaming headline across pro football circles that these Chiefs, the pundits’ new AFC West darkhorse, are absolutely legit. How legit, we’ll know by the end of the week.