LOS ANGELES: Patrick Mahomes rallied Kansas City with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes as the Chiefs launched their NFL season with a thrilling 33-29 victory over the Cleveland Browns. The Chiefs, who are trying to get to a third straight Super Bowl after winning it all in 2020 and falling to Tampa Bay last season, trailed all day in front of home fans at Arrowhead Stadium, where quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Browns took a 29-20 lead in the final period before Mahomes unleashed his magic.
With 10:10 left to play, Mahomes hit Tyreek Hill for a 75-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to two points. Barely more than three minutes later, Mahomes fired an eight-yard, third-down scoring pass to Travis Kelce to put the Chiefs up for the first time, 33-29. “You love his attitude because he always feels like we’re in it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Mahomes. “He does such a great job with the guys around him. He’s a great communicator during tough times on the sideline.”
A two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Chiefs were still able to hold on for the win, cornerback Mike Hughes intercepting Mayfield to end the Browns’ final drive. The Chiefs outscored the Browns 23-7 in the second half, Mahomes finishing with 337 yards on 27-of-36 passing with three TDs.
Reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers’ season, meanwhile, got off to a rocky start. The veteran Green Bay quarterback, who mulled retirement in the offseason before opting to return to the Packers despite tension with his longtime team, endured the worst margin of defeat in his NFL career in a 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Rodgers threw for only 133 yards and two interceptions before Jordan Love, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2020, took over in the fourth quarter of the blowout loss. “We played bad. I played bad,” Rodgers said, but added: “One game. We’ve got 16 to go.” The Saints didn’t miss a beat as they played their first game since talismanic quarterback Drew Brees retired. They were also playing their would-be home opener in Jacksonville, Florida, because of damage from Hurricane Ida in Louisiana.
Saints quarterback Jameis Winston threw five touchdowns and said the win was for fans back in New Orleans still struggling in the aftermath of Ida. “That was for the city,” Winston said. “We did that for them. We knew how much it would mean to get a great victory for that region.”
Rough ride for Lawrence
Elsewhere, Trevor Lawrence’s NFL career got off to a losing start as the Jacksonville Jaguars suffered a season-opening 37-21 mauling by the Houston Texans. Number one draft pick Lawrence, one of the most highly rated college quarterbacks in years, was intercepted three times as the Jaguars were outplayed by a Texans line-up missing DeShaun Watson, who is battling sexual assault allegations.
With Watson sidelined, it was left to Texans back-up quarterback Tyrod Taylor to lead the AFC South side to a comfortable win. Taylor threw for 291 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions as the Texans made a winning start to the season. Lawrence meanwhile finished with three touchdowns and 332 passing yards from 28-of-51 completions. In other action, the Pittsburgh Steelers jolted the Super Bowl hopeful Buffalo Bills with a 23-16 victory on the road. The Bills, aiming to build on a successful 2020 campaign which saw them reach the AFC Championship game, started smoothly as they edged into a 10-0 lead at half-time.
But Ben Roethlisberger’s pass to Diontae Johnson for a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter helped the Steelers take a 13-10 lead and then a blocked punt recovered by Ulysees Gilbert III in the end zone put Pittsburgh 10 points clear. Evan McPherson kicked a 38-yard field goal in overtime to give the Cincinnati Bengals a 27-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
In Detroit, the San Francisco 49ers held off a furious late rally from the Lions and new quarterback Jared Goff to claim a 41-33 victory. Matthew Stafford, the former Lions quarterback traded to the Los Angeles Rams for Goff, made a winning start for his new team, throwing for 321 yards with three touchdowns in a 34-14 victory over the Chicago Bears. Stafford unleased a 67-yard TD pass to Van Jefferson on his opening drive to give the Rams a lead they would never relinquish. He also connected with Cooper Kupp and Matthew Woods with scoring passes. – AFP