Football is back, and people are back to watching football on TV and similar devices.
Via Michael McCarthy of FrontOfficeSports.com, Thursday night’s regular-season opener between the Lions and Chiefs drew an average audience of 27 million viewers.
It’s a 24-percent increase over last year’s Bills-Rams game, and it’s the second largest audience for a season-opening game since Patriots-Steelers in 2015.
For NBC, it was the second largest audience via streaming for any NFL game.
And the weekend is just getting started. Sunday night’s game between the Cowboys and Giants should have a massive audience, as will Monday night’s Bills-Jets game.
Patrick Mahomes didn’t use the word unprompted.
But the Kansas City Chiefs’ star quarterback also didn’t disagree when asked.
Was the 21-20 loss to the Detroit Lions embarrassing? The defending Super Bowl champions, playing at home, opened their season 0-1 Thursday night against a team that did not make the playoffs last season.
“It’s embarrassing for me to lose any time,” Mahomes said during the postgame news conference. “Like I said after the ring ceremony, I’ve moved on to the next season. Obviously, it’s cool for the fans to be able to see the banner and drop in at Arrowhead Stadium. But this is a whole new year and I think I know that and we are trying to win another Super Bowl and this is obviously not the way we wanted to start.
“Any time I lose, I’m embarrassed. So I’m going to try to get better so I don’t lose more as the season goes on.”
Mahomes earned several wins with the response to his loss.
Noting his embarrassment extends to losing any time, he avoided giving any bulletin board material suggesting the caliber of the opponent was his cause for embarrassment. But Mahomes sent a message to his team and to the league that he is not resting on his laurels from last season’s Super Bowl. He was adamant this outcome would remind younger Chiefs players of the work that needs to be done, and of the clean slate that just started.
Mahomes’ message to the locker room: Last season’s record and Super Bowl no longer count in the standings. They need to be better.
“It’ll be good for the young guys to know that we’re not going to just kind of walk in and win the game,” Mahomes said. “You have to play good football. We’re going to play every team’s best shot.”
Fans didn’t need to look any further than Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night to spot the Chiefs’ two most glaring needs.
The Lions rushed for 118 yards, including a game-winning 8-yard touchdown, as four-time All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones sat between his agents in a stadium suite, as his contract dispute lingers. Lions quarterback Jared Goff was hit four times but sacked just once.
Seven-time All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce stood on the sideline with a hyperextended knee. As he watched, only 53.8% of Mahomes’ passes found their intended targets, a year after the quarterback completed 67.1% of attempts. Chiefs receivers dropped four passes in addition to the deflection off Kadarius Toney’s hands that Lions rookie Brian Branch returned for a touchdown. The three third-down drops were their most since 2012, per ESPN Stats and Info. No Andy Reid-era game was worse.
Mahomes acknowledged the impact the loss of Kelce had on the game. Kelce has averaged 1,288 yards and 9.4 touchdowns per regular season in Mahomes’ starting tenure, and Mahomes said the Chiefs were “losing one of the best — I think the best — tight end of all time” for the opener.
But Kansas City can’t hang its Super Bowl hopes on Kelce’s reliability and defensive attention alone.
“Other guys got to step up and they’re gonna have to step up in big moments,” Mahomes said, “because I’m sure there will be times when he gets doubled.
“Gonna have to [rely] on these other guys that are young and talented to step up and make plays, and I believe that they will.”
Fixing the Jones conundrum is still trickier. His 15.5 regular-season sacks and two postseason sacks last year reflect and yet still don’t wholly quantify his game-wrecking nature. Jones held out of all training camp, and now the season opener, saying this week he’s simply “asking for a raise” the Chiefs have not granted. NBC sideline reporter Melissa Stark said on Thursday’s broadcast that Jones doesn’t plan to miss the full season but is willing to miss up to eight games if an extension doesn’t arrive in the interim.
Eight interior defensive linemen currently average heftier contracts than Jones, per overthecap.com. He’s scheduled to hit free agency after this season.
Would his presence have made the difference in a 1-point loss, especially on a night without Kelce available? It’s likely but tough to say for sure. The Chiefs will never know. But the question they’ll care more about is how much Jones’ absence will continue to dent their Super Bowl aspirations.
How can the Chiefs re-route toward Super Bowl hopes?
The Lions-Chiefs game never tilted beyond a one-possession difference, the Lions’ Dan Campbell-esque grittiness on display the whole night. And yet: To those who had watched recent NFL seasons, a Chiefs victory still felt inevitable.
Even with Lions first-round rookie Jahmyr Gibbs’ impressive 60-yard performance. Even with the Lions gaining momentum on a successful fake punt, and the Chiefs losing it on a failed late fourth-and-25 attempt.
Mahomes had weathered far steeper circumstances to win spectacularly. Why not this one?
Mahomes appreciated the reality check this loss delivered. Basking in last season’s success will only distract from this year’s goal, he believes. He did not watch the banner-raising before kickoff, saying he didn’t “know if I even looked at the banner.”
Mahomes’ five-year AFC championship streak is elite, regardless of whether it extends to a sixth. The Chiefs feel both likely (BetMGM gives them the most favorable odds) and unlikely (only the 2004-05 Patriots have repeated as champions this millennium) to win the big game this season regardless of the loss they now carry.
Mahomes, for his part, said he’ll “keep firing” to smooth chemistry with his receivers. And he’ll keep reminding his teammates to forget last season if they want to achieve greatness this one.
“I’ve moved on,” Mahomes said. “This is a new season. My goal wasn’t to just win the Super Bowl and be done. I’m trying to continue to do it every single year and I think we got the team.
“But obviously we have a lot of places where we can get better.”