Kansas City Chiefs have opposite of 'Banner Night' against Detroit Lions

The Kansas City Chiefs season opener ends in disappointment as they fall 21-20 to the Detroit Lions. It's never reasonable to panic after Week 1 of the NFL season, but the Chiefs' problems extend beyond the absences of Travis Kelce and Chris Jones.
Detroit Lions v Kansas City Chiefs
Detroit Lions v Kansas City Chiefs / David Eulitt/GettyImages

It's difficult to win in the National Football League without two of your best football players. The Kansas City Chiefs went into their season opener against the Detroit Lions with Travis Kelce on the sideline (with a bone bruise) and Chris Jones holed up with the Katz Brothers in a stadium suite. Kansas City had a number of opportunities to seize control of this football game late in the second half, but ultimately came up short in the game's biggest moments.

Some Chiefs fans will see that as an encouraging sign that they played competitively despite being short-handed. While I'd remind fans it's still very early in the season, I think some of what ailed K.C. on Thursday night can't be explained away by the absences of star players.

With the NFL postseason four months away, there's no good reason to overreact to what we saw in Game 1 for Kansas City. That said, there might be evidence that the Chiefs have some deep-rooted problems that have been glossed over in our offseason discussions about the team. We came into the 2023 season with high hopes for the second seasons of wide receivers Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore.

It's never reasonable to panic after Week 1 of the NFL season, but the Chiefs' problems extend beyond the absences of Travis Kelce and Chris Jones.

At one point, general manager Brett Veach even had this to say about Toney's prospects in Year Two with Kansas City. "He's one of those guys that if you can just get the ball in his hands, he makes plays happen. So I'm excited for him to have a full season, not only with me, but with coach [Andy] Reid, and with Travis and where he can learn how we do things. And I think the sky is the limit. He can be one of the best receivers in this league."

That's high praise for the third-year man out of Florida, but are those reasonable expectations for a largely unproven player with a questionable medical history? The same might be said about Skyy Moore in his sophomore season. Everyone expected him to slide right into the role vacated by JuJu Smith-Schuster, but what about his rookie campaign led anyone to believe he'd take a major step forward in 2023? Be clear: I'm not writing either player off after one game, but I think it's clear this receiver room isn't as ready to be relied upon as we might want.

On Thursday, Moore and Toney were targeted 8 times and posted just 1 reception for 1 yard with those looks. Toney had one of the worst performances by a wide receiver I can remember in recent years. Early in the third quarter, a beautifully-placed ball went through his hands and landed into the waiting arms of rookie safety Brian Branch. He made a nifty one-handed grab and rumbled 50 yards into the end zone to tie the game 14-all. On the Chiefs' final possession, Mahomes found Toney deep in the Lions' territory, but the ball was inexplicably dropped.

Two other offensive players combined for 8 targets on Thursday (Blake Bell and Rashee Rice). That tandem caught 5 passes for 41 yards and 2 touchdowns). Rice is a rookie in an offense that's historically been unkind to first-year receivers. Bell is a third-string tight end who isn't known for his pass-catching ability. Something is very wrong with that equation. It's worth asking if the Chiefs coaching staff and front office put too much on the shoulders of unknown commodities. Time will tell, but this is why some thought the receiver room needed reinforcements when Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman defected for other AFC teams.

Then there's the reliance upon Patrick Mahomes resilience and Travis Kelce's durability. In Mahomes' case, he's consistently asked to overcome talent-poor position groups on the offensive side of the football. In years past, it was his offensive line. These days, it's his receiver room. Yes, he's the best player in all of football, but it's unfair to ask him to compensate for a group of inexperienced, unproven wide receivers. Travis Kelce is soon to be 34 years old (next month on October 5th). Injuries are going to happen at this stage of his career. It's time for a contingency plan and having another reliable veteran to throw to is important.

Lastly, the situational play calling in Week 1 was abysmal. With opportunities to take control of the game, Andy Reid twice settled for field goals on 4th-&-short situations. Couple that with two head-scratching short-yardage decisions on key third downs and it's easy to understand why this game slipped away. You just don't take the football out of the reigning MVP's hands in crucial moments in the game. As the defending world champions, teams are going to pull out all of the stops to beat the Chiefs. If Kansas City is to repeat, Reid will have to be more aggressive with opportunities to put teams away. Every opponent has the Chiefs circled on their schedule and a win over Kansas City is a great confidence builder.

With all of this in mind, there are still reasons to believe in the Chiefs' 2023 title defense. The pieces are there. Chris Jones will eventually return. Charles Omenihu has just five games left of his suspension. Kelce's likely to be back in the lineup when the Chiefs meet the Jacksonville Jaguars 10 days from now. Having said all of that, I'd keep a close eye at teams around the league as the trade deadline approaches, if I were Brett Veach. This team could use another veteran wide receiver. As for coaching, Reid needs to be prepared to let it hang in close games. No team is going to roll over for the Chiefs and they will take chances to steal a game away. Big Red isn't much of a gambler and I'm not calling for that, but leave the ball in the hands of your ace when the situation demands it.

The sky isn't falling at One Arrowhead Drive. We've got a long season ahead of us, but the Chiefs should take a hard look at themselves and not attribute Thursday night solely to the absences of Jones and Kelce. There are real warts that Game 1 revealed that they should take seriously and consider having removed. The team will look to get things back on track when they travel to North Florida for a rematch with their divisional round opponent in 2022.