5 takeaways as Lions stun Chiefs 21-20 in 2023 NFL season opener originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Jared Goff and Co. came into Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday and upset Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs 21-20 in stunning fashion.
Defenses reigned supreme throughout the night, but it was a late David Montgomery fourth-quarter touchdown that pushed Detroit over Kansas City on a night where Mahomes did not look like the Mahomes the NFL spectrum is accustomed to.
The 2022 NFL MVP finished the game throwing for 226 yards, two touchdowns and a pick-six while completing 21-for-39 passes. Goff, on the other hand, completed 22 of 35 attempts for 253 yards, one touchdown and no picks.
Perhaps it was the negative effect of not having Travis Kelce available after the star tight end was a late scratch with a knee injury, but all the focus is on the Lions’ roaring start.
Let’s dig into five takeaways from a competitive opening night:
A controversial 4th-and-2 call
Lions head coach Dan Campbell made risky decisions throughout the night, and none was bigger than a 4th-and-2 call on the Chiefs’ 45-yard line. With 2:33 on the clock in the fourth quarter and Mahomes on the opposite sideline, Campbell opted to go for it. It’s a do-or-die move given the context, and it ended in Goff’s attempted pass being batted down at the line.
But the move probably signaled more of Campbell’s faith in his defense to recover should the Lions have turned it over on downs. That faith, whether true or not, paid off. Detroit ended up forcing the Chiefs into a 4th-and-25 play right before the two-minute warning and forced a turnover on downs of its own. Kansas City never got the ball back.
Mahomes, Chiefs miss Travis Kelce’s presence
The news of Kelce’s omission right before the game may have doomed Kansas City from the start. Mahomes made his usual crafty mobile plays here and there but never quite looked comfortable when looking for an exit route under pressure. It didn’t help that the receiver with the most catches on the night was running back Isiah Pacheco, who recorded four receptions for 31 yards.
Kelce may have been the difference maker, but we’ll never truly know as the Lions assembled a near-flawless defensive performance.
Detroit’s offense clicks at an opportune time
The Lions started the game on the right foot offensively when Amon-Ra St. Brown opened the scoring with a receiving touchdown. Detroit looked on the verge of scoring again with a deep drive before Marvin Jones Jr. had a costly fumble. The unit never quite played with the same groove and intensity after that mistake — even as the Chiefs didn’t have Chris Jones — until it’s touchdown-sealing drive.
Receiver Josh Reynolds hauled in two key catches on the drive — including a 33-yard catch-and-run play — that led to Montgomery’s rushing touchdown. The Lions’ highly rated offensive line also showed out, providing the unit with a stable platform to build off of. Getting back a healthy Jameson Williams could boost this group further.
Chiefs’ wide receiver room lacks quality
On the opposite end, Kansas City really had no consistent go-to route runners. Mahomes finally looked human again with Kadarius Toney having a forgettable night and Skyy Moore being virtually invisible. They had eight targets combined but Toney had the sole catch for just one yard.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling collected the most yards with 48 on two receptions. That just can’t happen for a Super Bowl-quality team. Even Juju Smith-Schuster could’ve helped the situation, but it’s back to the drawing board for Andy Reid, Mahomes and Co.
Brian Branch introduces himself with pick-six on Mahomes
One of two second-round picks by Detroit, Brian Branch introduced himself to the NFL with a pick-six on Mahomes that also proved decisive.
Early in the third quarter with 11 minutes on the clock, Branch reacted to a shocking Toney drop that resulted in the safety running it all the way back.
These are the types of wins that can propel Detroit to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Tonight, the rooks played a key part in doing so.