KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On a night when the Chiefs offense showcased its speed and size in route to a 38-17 preseason win over the Cincinnati Bengals, leave it to Darwin Thompson, one of the smallest guys on the team, to make the biggest impact.
“I proved a little bit,” Thompson said. “I proved that at 5-foot-8, 195 (pounds), I can play in the NFL. I can break tackles.”
Thompson used a combination of glitzy acceleration and brute strength in rushing for 22 yards on five carries, but it was his 29-yard touchdown reception that created the most buzz. Thompson ran an angle route over the middle, catching a pass from quarterback Chase Litton at the 25-yard line and cutting across the field through the Bengals defense for the touchdown.
“I didn't know it was coming to me, but as soon as I broke off the linebacker, I'm like, 'OK, this ball is coming to me,'” Thompson said. “I put my hands up, and it was in slow motion, and my eyes just got big.”
Then Thompson let his natural instincts take over.
“At that point I was like, 'Man, get going fast,'” Thompson said. “'Take off now.' As soon as I caught the ball, I was like, 'Lift your knees up, somebody is on your tail. Get going. Get in the end zone.'”
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was on the sidelines by that point in the game, but he's seen that explosiveness before during OTAs and training camp.
“For him to be able to shake that defender in man-to-man coverage, catch the ball in a tough, contested catch and then make a run,” Mahomes said. “And then also even before that, running in between the tackles.”
Thompson's electric touchdown almost didn't happen because of another play by the explosive rookie. On the previous play, Thompson raced up the middle for 16 yards to the Cincinnati 3-yard line, but a hold call on guard Ryan Hunter brought the play back. Thompson punctuated that run with a hurdle over a defender at the end.
“I was feeling myself at that point,” Thompson said. “I got to show what I can do.”
Thompson's willingness to run between the tackles using his shiftiness and contact balance impressed Mahomes as well.
“When you have a smaller back like that, he has a ton of muscle, but a smaller back for him to run between the tackles and just rely on his speed, that was great to see.”
Saturday night's game served as a test of sorts for Thompson. Head coach Andy Reid needed to see the sixth-round draft choice perform in a game situation compared to training camp, where the only running opportunities come in 9-on-7 situations stacked against the running back.
“Getting in a game, doing it in a game is important for that position,” Reid said. “When he got in we were able to feed him the ball, and he did a nice job running. Then he had the nice catch. He's a viable receiver, so I thought all in all it was good.”
Thompson knew Saturday was a test. He knows at his size, he's always going to be scrutinized and questioned until he proves his worth.
“They want to see if I can really play at this level,” Thompson said. “That's really it, that was what tonight was all about, to see if I could catch the ball, if I could run between the tackles. (At) 5-8, 195, I'm too small to be in the NFL, that's the stereotype.”
With starter Damien Williams on the sidelines Saturday night as he returns from a hamstring, Thompson lined up as the No. 3 running back behind Carlos Hyde and Darrel Williams. But he won't remain there on the depth chart with more performances like his show against the Bengals. Thompson feels at home in Reid's offense, comparing it with the same RPO action, gap schemes and inside runs in which he thrived in college at both Utah State and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
“The only difference is the verbiage, the terminology, going in the huddles every time,” Thompson said. “We're still up tempo, we break out of the huddle fast, we do everything fast, and I really feel like I fit into that.”
Questions remain with how much offensive workload the rocked up Thompson can shoulder. He's heard those doubts plenty of times in the past. On Saturday night he proved worthy of more opportunities to prove the skeptics wrong.
“I can do the same things I did in college,” Thompson said. “Let me build on top of that.”