Thursday night was different. There were reminders throughout that this was the first NFL game since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The NFL’s sure-to-be-weird 2020 season kicked off Thursday, in Arrowhead Stadium that was less than a quarter full. The Chiefs celebrated raising a Super Bowl championship banner and then beat the Houston Texans 34-20 behind three touchdown passes from Mahomes.
The world has changed plenty since the Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV, but it did look like the same impressive Chiefs.
Thursday night was a bit strange
It was impossible to watch on Thursday night and not be periodically distracted by the differences from a normal NFL opener, due to COVID-19.
Arrowhead Stadium was mostly empty when the Super Bowl banner was unveiled. Social issues were apparent, too; the Houston Texans stayed in the locker room for the national anthem and then both teams came together and locked arms for a moment of silence to bring attention to the fight for racial justice.
Captains put on masks for the coin flip. Andy Reid wore a foggy face shield. Bill O’Brien wore a mask. NBC didn’t pump in any artificial crowd noise, so the game was more muted than a normal Chiefs home contest, and it was especially odd for the first game after their Super Bowl LIV win. Fewer than 17,000 fans were allowed in and they had to be spread out.
Due to the sparseness of the crowd and the lack of noise, at times it felt like a preseason game. On NBC, Al Michaels compared it to being in the stadium with a few minutes to go when the home team is getting blown out. That fit, too.
Arrowhead Stadium 8 minutes before kickoff. pic.twitter.com/JdBV6I7j90— Nate Taylor (@ByNateTaylor) September 11, 2020
The game itself was exactly what we were used to, though. The Texans took a 7-0 lead early on a touchdown by David Johnson, who will always be remembered as the player acquired in the DeAndre Hopkins trade. Then, the Chiefs took control.
Mahomes threw a touchdown to Travis Kelce. Then another to Sammy Watkins. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs’ first-round pick who looked electric in his debut, scored on a beautiful 27-yard run early in the third quarter to give Kansas City a 24-7 lead. Deshaun Watson is capable of big comebacks, but it’s just too hard to keep up with the Chiefs’ offense, especially when they take that kind of lead. Mahomes put the game away with his third touchdown pass, a short one to Tyreek Hill.
Even in a weird new world, the Chiefs were unstoppable as usual.
Chiefs look as good as ever
There will be things to get used to this season, and we got a taste of that on Thursday night.
The good news is, we’ll settle in. Baseball in front of cardboard fans seems a lot less strange than it was in late July. You can watch an NBA playoff game and forget it’s being played in a bubble. A lot is new, but it’s still pretty much the same.
The Chiefs didn’t look much different than the last time we saw them. Kansas City’s defense played very well, limiting any downfield passing from Houston’s offense or big plays from Watson when plays broke down. The Chiefs’ offense is going to be the best in the league again. Watkins looked great, as he did in the opener last season, Hill is as fast as ever, Kelce is a spectacular tight end and Edwards-Helaire looked like he’ll add an entirely new dimension. They’re going to be very good again.
The 2020 NFL season is underway, and the defending champs are 1-0. There will be some odd moments this season but still a few things we can count on, like Kansas City being able to score at will.
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