Entering the NFL’s 101st season, the league kicked off week one of action with a battle between two of the league’s youngest and brightest stars. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, the league’s highest-paid players following their respective contract extensions, were primed for an impressive duel.
Mahomes, fresh off of a Super Bowl victory, returned with nearly his entire offense, sans veteran running back LeSean McCoy who departed to Tampa Bay in the offseason. First-round draft pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a running back out of Louisiana State University, fit right into the Chiefs’ offense and took over McCoy’s role with ease. Edwards-Helaire finished his rookie debut with 138 yards and a touchdown on 25 rushing attempts, clearing 5.5 yards per carry in a more balanced Chiefs offense. With a firmly established ground attack, Mahomes had a relatively clean pocket throughout the contest, being sacked just once by linebacker Jacob Martin. Reigning Super Bowl MVP, Mahomes, dissected the Texans’ defense, completing 24 of 32 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns, distributing one each to wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill, and another to tight end Travis Kelce.
Watson, having received the biggest yearly salary in his contract extension, appeared to be worth every penny in the season opener. Though head coach Bill O’Brien traded away star wide receiver Deandre Hopkins in the offseason, he acquired running back David Johnson and a second-round pick in the process, and David Johnson showed flashes of his prime form for the first time since 2016. Splitting backfield duties with fellow offseason acquisition Duke Johnson, David Johnson toted the ball 11 times for 77 yards, making impressive cutbacks and reads through a stout Chiefs’ defensive front. Duke Johnson, meanwhile, scraped out just 14 yards on five carries, showing that David Johnson will likely be taking the majority of the snaps as the season progresses. In spite of the loss of Hopkins, a quietly bolstered Texans receiving core performed well as Watson spread the ball around. Watson completed just 20 passes on 32 attempts but distributed the ball out to receivers Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, Brandin Cooks and Andre Carter. Tight ends Darren Fells and Jordan Akins each contributed two catches apiece to the offensive effort.
From the opening drive, it was apparent that the modified offseason had left a bit of rust on both teams on both sides of the ball. While certain stars–like Houston defensive end J.J. Watt and the aforementioned Mahomes––got off to a blazing start, there were several missed assignments on each team’s opening drives. Watson threw a beautiful floater to Fuller on the opening drive that was bobbled and dropped, forcing a third down and 10. On the ensuing snap, the Chiefs swarmed against an overmatched Texans offensive line, forcing Watson to throw an errant pass to David Johnson who was behind him, forcing the team to punt on their opening series.
Mahomes wasted little time slashing through the Texans’ defense, as head coach Andy Reid kept their blitzes at bay with mixed-in jet sweeps and outside running plays. Following a quick throw to Kelce to set up a first down inside the Texans’ 35-yard-line, Mahomes dropped back and delivered a beautiful, rainbow shot into the outstretched hands of wide receiver Demarcus Robinson in the endzone just outside of the coverage of safety Justin Reid, but Robinson was unable to maintain possession of the ball on the way to the ground. The call was initially a touchdown, but upon review, the refs got a clear view of the ball making contact with the ground and not being securely in Robinson’s hands. Martin hit home on the lone sack of Mahomes on the night on the next play, effectively ending the Chiefs’ scoring opportunity and turning the ball back over to Watson.
Watson, aided by the threat of David Johnson slashing through the Chiefs’ front seven, hit Cooks on back-to-back passes to set the Texans up inside the Chiefs’ 20-yard-line, where David Johnson proceeded to take the ball on a beautiful cut-back into the endzone for the opening score. After the Texans struck the first blow, Mahomes and Edwards-Helaire amped up their attack, gashing the Texans’ defense for chunk play after chunk play. Mahomes capped off the drive by threading the needle through triple coverage to Kelce in the endzone, beginning a scoring frenzy that wouldn’t be matched by the Texans until late in the game.
The Chiefs scored 24 unanswered points following the Texans’ opening drive, and Watson wasn’t able to drive back down to the end zone until the fourth quarter. By then, Mahomes had already built up an insurmountable lead and was simply letting Edwards-Helaire run out the clock by tiring out an outmatched Texans defense. Though Watson managed to make the final score respectable, 34-20, the holes in Houston’s roster were quite glaring to begin the season, showing that the leagues’ most sacked quarterback since 2018 will have to once more carry his team to the postseason. Meanwhile, his draft classmate Mahomes continues to refine his game with one of the best supporting casts in the league, turning the Chiefs’ offense into a contender to shatter some of the league’s offensive records.