The season opener for the Chiefs expected to serve as the coming out party for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but it quickly turned into a confirmation of wide receiver Tyreek Hill as one of the league's elite playmakers in the team's 38-28 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Tyreek, Tyreek, Tyreek,” head coach Andy Reid repeated in his postgame press conference. “He kind of got things going and did a very nice job.”
Reid certainly undersold the performance of his dynamic reciever and returner. Hill kickstarted the Chiefs with a 91-yard punt return on the club's first possession and added seven catches for 169 and two yards catches as the team starts its season with a key road win over an AFC West rival.
The Chargers rebounded after the punt return to cut the lead to 7-3, but Hill responded with his second touchdown of the day. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes used play action to Kareem Hunt to setup a slant to Hill, who took the pass in stride and raced 58 yards for another score.
“I just have to run my route and be there,” Hill said. “There’s a certain spot on the field that I have to be and he’s going to throw it there every time. Then after that, it’s history.”
Mahomes turned in a terrific performance in his own right, completing 15-of-27 passing for 256 yards and four touchdowns for a gaudy 127.5 passer rating.
Hill said Mahomes showed great poise in making his second career start and his first since taking over as the team's starter with the trade of Alex Smith to the Washington in the offseason.
“Every time Pat steps into the huddle, he is very comfortable,” Hill said. “With the play call he was like, ‘Okay guys, let’s drive this ball down their throat.’ As a receiver, tight end, offensive line we were like, ‘We have a great leader in our huddle.’”
The Chiefs never trailed after Hill's punt return score, but Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers did his best to pull his team back. Rivers finished 34-of-51 passing for 424 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Both wide receiver Keenan Allen (108 yards) and running back Melvin Gordon (102 yards) topped the century mark in receiving.
Despite the big days from Allen and Gordon, the Chargers receiving corps dropped four passes from Rivers that head coach Anthony Lynn said hurt his offense.
“I think a couple of those might have been touchdowns,” Lynn said. “Plays that we need to make. Plays that we have to make.”
“Today we should have thrown for 600, which is crazy to say,” Rivers said. “We should have thrown for 600 yards in an NFL game. We just didn’t get it done. I had a couple just a hair underthrown. We had a couple we didn’t bring down. We had a turnover down in there. That all affected points. The name of the game is points.”
Kansas City's defensive proved timely at least if not always effective. Safety Ron Parker, who re-signed with the team a week after receiving his release from Atlanta, picked off a Rivers' pass and added eight total tackles. He spent five seasons with the Chiefs before signing as a free agent in the offseason with Falcons.
“He's only been here a couple of days and he comes out with all those tackles,” Reid said.
Newcomer Anthony Hitchens also turned in a big day for the Chiefs, picking up 15 total tackles including two for a loss. Sunday's game marked the linebacker's first with the Chiefs after signing with the club as a free agent from Dallas.
Parker said his teammates told him he would love Hitchens, and the performance against the Chargers sold him on the linebacker's value.
“I think he did a good job of just being himself and playing football,” Parker said of Hitchens. “He is a playmaker. He just makes plays. He just has a knack for the football and he is a good, fundamentally sound football player.”
The Chiefs and Chargers battled all the way to Week 16 last season for the AFC West title. Many prognosticators favored the Chargers to wrestle the crown away this year from the back-to-back champion Chiefs. Kansas City fullback Anthony Sherman said the team came to Los Angeles with a chip on its shoulder.
“Everyone's picked them to win the division,” Sherman said. “We just wanted to come out and prove don't forget about us. We're still here and we've still got a great team, and if we play together like we did we're going to be pretty dangerous.”