Some 195 days ago, the Chiefs left Arrowhead Stadium on the stunned end of a comeback — a loss that, little did we realize then, would mark the final days for core members of a championship run two years earlier.
At long last, new look and all, the Chiefs are back.
If you count a game that, well, doesn’t actually count. You can’t, not fully But you can still glean something from the three-game preseason schedule that opened Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Like, say, these five observations from the Chiefs’ 19-14 loss to the Bears:
1. The receivers
It’s the storyline of this year’s Chiefs.
How will they fare without Tyreek Hill?
We’ll couch everything by saying it’s only the preseason, but part of the silver lining of losing one of football’s best receivers is it should force Patrick Mahomes to spread the ball around more — to not be so heavily dependent on one but rather use the entire group.
The intro looked good. Mahomes played only one drive, but he led the Chiefs to a touchdown, completing six of seven passes for 60 yards and a 5-yard touchdown to Blake Bell on a tight end screen.
The most relevant part? He completed those six passes to six different receivers.
We can’t overlook a third-down completion to Marquez Valdes-Scantling — the two had to adjust the top of the route to find an opening in the defense. In their first game together, they read the play the same and reacted similarly, keeping alive the drive.
2. Third-down playbook
The top item on this list might be the story of this offseason, but let’s not so quickly forget the story of last offseason.
A year ago at this time, we were analyzing how the makeover of an offensive line would hold up. Now? We basically just take it for granted.
On a third-and-1 on the opening drive Saturday, a down and distance that used to present the Chiefs a complexity, they returned to the most simple of options.
Fullback Michael Burton.
A luxury they didn’t enjoy in 2020, Burton was 8 for 8 in turning third down rushes into first downs in 2021, and he converted on the preseason attempt here in Chicago.
It’s one play, one play in an exhibition game at that, but it’s indicative of how the Chiefs’ interior offensive line will allow them to continue to expand the playbook. This will be the play defenses often expect in 2022, opening an avenue for Andy Reid’s creativity.
3. The rookie who shined most
Given the sheer number of them, we’ve had our eyes on the rookies all preseason — the Chiefs plucked 10 players in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Among them, George Karlaftis had a day in his debut.
He got to the quarterback for his first sack, with some help from the coverage in the secondary, but he was active beyond one snap. On another, his bull rush shoved left tackle Braxton Jones straight backward for several steps. Karlaftis was a consistent presence in the backfield.
4. Position battles
That’s ultimately a primary purpose of the preseason schedule — to determine who will actually make the roster.
Although training camp has offered some clues, nothing is more revealing than who the Chiefs put on the field in an actual game.
Here are some that caught my eye:
• While Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the starting running back, that’s a crowded depth chart, and it appears rookie Isiah Pacheco is moving up. He got some snaps on the opening drive with Mahomes, catching a 5-yard pass. That might equal bad news for Ronald Jones, whose roster spot is, shall we say, dubious.
• Trent McDuffie was the first punt returner. Special teams coach Dave Toub has said McDuffie has the surest hands in that group.
• The Chiefs started a pair of rookie cornerbacks as they opened in their nickel package — McDuffie, as expected, and fourth-rounder Joshua Williams. Initially an intriguing camp story, Williams is yet to relinquish his spot. That could change with Rashad Fenton returning from a shoulder injury, but not yet.
• Blue Springs High School graduate Elijah Lee was part of the starting base defense, alongside Nick Bolton and Willie Gay at linebacker.
5. The depths of a receiver battle
The Chiefs have four wide receivers all-but-guaranteed to make the roster — Mecole Hardman, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Skyy Moore.
From there? The final one — or is it two? — spots are up for grabs.
Justin Watson took a step forward in the race for No. 5. Watson, who colleague Vahe Gregorian will remind you incessantly graduated from Penn, caught 5 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Ironically, I thought Watson’s special teams role is what would give him a leg up — or perhaps serve as the tiebreaker — on making the initial 53-man roster. If he can also be a contributor in the receiving game, particularly catching footballs in tight windows, there won’t be any need to implement a tiebreaker.