The Chiefs backups rallied for a 28-14 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the second week of the preseason, but the play of the game belonged to Patrick Mahomes and the first-team offense.
Mahomes delivered a 69-yard strike – technically 68.6 yards through the air, according to the NFL's Next Gen Stats – to Tyreek Hill with 28 seconds remaining before halftime that flipped the momentum after a sluggish first half for the Chiefs.
That play washed away a rough first half for Mahomes and the first-team offense. The Falcons lead 14-3 before that touchdown throw, and it could have been worse. The Falcons twice went for it on fourth down in the red zone but the Chiefs' defense stiffened. The Chiefs also settled for a field goal after having a Kareem Hunt touchdown wiped out by a questionable illegal formation penalty against right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
But the reserves shutout the Falcons 17-0 in the second half, allowing the Chiefs to escape Atlanta in leveling their preseason record at 1-1.
Mahomes and a spotty first half
Mahomes made some nice plays with one atrocious interception before the deep ball to Hill bailed out out his evening. He finished the half 8-of-12 passing for 138 yards with a touchdown and the pick.
The interception is a bit of a concern given its ugliness. Mahomes stared down receiver Sammy Watkins, completely ignoring safety Damontae Kazee. With no effort made to bluff off the safety, Mahomes lofted a timing pass to Watkins that was woefully underthrown. The receiver didn't make much an effort to comeback for the ball, and Kazee made the easy pick.
As ugly as that pass was, however, the strike to Hill was the opposite. The offensive line provided time, and Mahomes delivered a touchdown pass further in the air than any quarterback in the league threw last season. That may be what Chiefs fans need to expect with Mahomes this season – relatively steady play punctuated by occasional brilliance and periodic stumbles.
Secondary injuries worrisome
The Chiefs secondary already had enough worries with Daniel Sorensen out for an extended period of time, Eric Berry nursing a sore heel and the cornerback group coming off an an uneven performance in preseason Week 1.
Then the Chiefs lost cornerback Steven Nelson on the first drive of the game. Nelson took a knee to the helmet from Falcons tight end Austin Hooper on a touchdown catch. Head coach Andy Reid confirmed he has a concussion, so Nelson could face an extended absence.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and the first-team offense carved up the Chiefs' defense, piling up 241 yards in the first half. Ryan led just two drives, finishing 5-of-7 passing for 90 yards and a touchdown. If Ryan and the ones remained on the field, that game might have turned out far differently.
Rookie Tremon Smith stepped in as the nickel back with the first team defense and played well. But if Nelson is out for an extended time, general manager Brett Veach might step up his efforts in looking for additional help in the secondary.
Undrafted rookies to watch
Finding undrafted rookies that make an impact is like prospecting for oil, but the Chiefs might have two keepers in linebacker Ben Niemann and running back Darrel Williams.
Niemann backed up his game-leading five-tackle performance in Week 1 with four more tackles and added an interception and a pass defended. Niemann has aggressive instincts and attacks the ball well. He might make rookie mistakes at times but he offers the tenacity the Chiefs want on defense and remains highly coachable.
Williams picked up 15 yards on six rushes but also added 21 yards on two receptions, including a nice 4-yard gain on a third-and-3. He followed that up wit ha 17-yard reception that setup Chad Henne's touchdown pass to Gehrig Dieter.
Both players face a lot of competition at their positions, and the Chiefs probably have a better shot at risking Williams to the practice squad than Niemann. But both players continue to make strong roster bids.
Henne's good enough
Henne delivered another solid performance Friday night, opening the second half with a 10 play, 76-yard drive capped off by a nice 27-yard touchdown pass to Dieter.
The 33-year-old Henne appealed to the Chiefs due to his experience with the West Coash offense and his better than average athleticism for a veteran his age. Henne showcased both skills Friday night, executive the offense effectively and even running an effective read-option for an easy 9-yard gain.
Through two preseason games Henne owns a stat line of 16-of-24 passing for 176 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for a 98.6 passer rating. That's effective enough to run the offense if the Chiefs need to an emergency backup due to an injury to Mahomes.
Run defense needs starters
Tevin Coleman average 7 yards per carry in the first quarter as the Falcons piled up 76 yards rushing in the first half, far from encouraging for a Chiefs defense hoping to toughen up against the run this season.
The good news for the Chiefs is that it come with two of their best run defenders on the bench. The club started with Ukeme Eligwe and Terrance Smith at inside linebacker with Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens on the bench as the return from injuries.
The Chiefs face the Chicago Bears next week. Starting running back Jordan Howard has been dealing with a knee injury, but if he plays next week the Chiefs should get a good test for Ragland and Hitchens, who both seem on target to play next week. The Chiefs have struggled to stop the run against starting offense in both of their preseason outings thus far.