Distanced fans, racial injustice protests mark NFL return as Kansas City takes win
Miami Dolphins say in video earlier Thursday 'we'll stay inside' for anthems
Just about the only thing that looked familiar about the NFL's long-awaited return Thursday night was the sight of Patrick Mahomes effortlessly leading Kansas City up and down the field.
The Super Bowl MVP thew for 211 yards and three touchdowns, Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran through the rain for 138 yards and another score, and Kansas City began defence of its first championship in 50 years by beating the Houston Texans 34-20 on Thursday night before a socially distanced crowd of about 17,000 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill each caught TD passes for the reigning champions. They have won 10 straight dating to last season. That run includes a come-from-behind 51-31 victory over the Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs.
"I'm proud of our players but I'm also proud of our fans. They came out there. They were loud," said Kansas City coach Andy Reid, who claimed he didn't notice some booing from fans during a pregame moment of unity involving both teams.
"Obviously, our players, both sides of the ball and special teams , I thought they were solid," Reid continued. "For the first game there were some good things that were done, some great individual performances."
The Texans' Deshaun Watson threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score, but he also was under relentless pressure and was intercepted once. David Johnson provided the biggest bright spot for Houston, running for 77 yards and a score.
"There's a lot to fix," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "It's only one game. We have to improve pretty quickly. But it's only one game . We have to get back to work pretty soon and fix these things."
WATCH | NFL season begins with focus on racial injustice:
The world has changed dramatically in the seven months since Kansas City hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Miami.
Within six weeks, the term COVID-19 had become a part of everyday life, the disease killing more than 900,000 people around the globe. The death of George Floyd at the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer in May touched off the Black Lives Matter movement, which in turn has led to a summer of social unrest that has gripped the country.
Against that backdrop came an NFL opener unlike any other: masks worn by everyone from fans to the coaching staffs; a series of videos raising awareness of social justice initiatives and encouraging the public to vote; and ultimately both teams locking arms in a display of unity prior to the coin toss.
To the relief of many, kickoff finally brought 4 hours of normalcy.
The Texans, who blew a 24-point lead against Kansas City in the the playoffs, struck first when they marched 80 yards for a touchdown. The elusive Johnson finished it off by scampering 19 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
But just like that cold January day, red-hot Kansas City quickly overcame its slow start.
They tied it moments later when Mahomes threw a short touchdown pass to Kelce, then took the lead when they forced a quick punt and Mahomes found Watkins in the end zone. Harrison Butker capped the first half by kicking a chip-shot field goal that sent the champions to the locker room with a 17-7 lead.
Edwards-Helaire, their first-round pick, padded the lead in the third quarter. After ripping off an 11-yard gain early in the drive, the pint-sized dynamo out of LSU unleashed a wicked stutter-step before running 27 yards for another score.
"He's just another weapon I have in this offence," Mahomes said.
Kansas City put the game away when rookie L'Darius Sneed picked off Watson's jump ball in the closing seconds of the third quarter. Mahomes was bailed out of a fourth-down interception by pass interference in the end zone, then he zipped a dart to Hill streaking across the field for a 31-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
"We just trust whatever Coach Reid is dialing up," said Kelce, who finished with six catches for 50 yards. "They do an unbelievable job preparing us and scheming up defences and we just trust what they're doing."
Watson threw a touchdown pass and ran for a TD later in the quarter to make the final score a bit more respectable.
"It was a little different but the fans did what they did for their home team and that was pretty much it," Watson said. "We just got to continue to do our job, find the rhythm, get guys on the same page and that's pretty much it."
Kansas City players lined up along the goal line about 30 minutes before kickoff and watched Alicia Keys perform "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which is often considered the Black national anthem, in a video designed to address racial inequality.
The Texans had already left the field when the demonstration occurred. They remained there until R&B duo Chloe x Halle finished a virtual performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner," then ran onto the field to a chorus of boos from fans.
Some fans were still booing when the teams met at midfield and shook hands. The teams then stood together in a line that stretched from one end zone to the other for a moment of silence before the coin toss.
Dolphins to stay inside for anthem
Black and white Miami Dolphins players and coach Brian Flores released a video on social media saying they'll protest racial injustice by remaining in their locker room during the national anthem.
The two-minute, 15-second video featured nearly 20 players trading stern rhymes about the nation's social protest movement.
"If you speak up for change, then I shut up and play," safety Bobby McCain said.
The NFL plans to play the national anthem and "Lift Every Voice and Sing" — the Black national anthem — before every game this weekend, including the Dolphins' opener Sunday at New England. The Dolphins have been asked several times this week by reporters whether they'll stand or kneel for the songs.
BREAKING NEWS: The<a href="https://twitter.com/MiamiDolphins?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MiamiDolphins</a> players will stay inside for both national anthems. They express their discontentment with what they call “fluff and empty gestures” by the <a href="https://twitter.com/NFL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFL</a> <a href="https://t.co/ghUktHhPt9">pic.twitter.com/ghUktHhPt9</a>—@RealJayWilliams
"If we could just right our wrongs, we wouldn't need two songs," centre Ted Karras said in the video.
"We'll just skip the long production and stay inside," tight end Mike Gesicki said.
Flores, wearing a T-shirt that read VOTE, closed the video in unity with his players.
"Before the media starts wondering and guessing, they just answered all your questions," Flores said. "We'll just stay inside."