KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Just about everyone in the Kansas City Chiefs locker room has moved past their latest Super Bowl triumph by this point, turning their focus toward the Detroit Lions in Thursday night’s NFL opener and the prospect of becoming the first repeat NFL champions in nearly two decades.
Keeping that focus has been hard, though.
The Chiefs spent the offseason wondering whether Chris Jones would end his holdout, and it appears that the All-Pro defensive tackle is content taking it right into the regular season. Then on Tuesday, the Chiefs watched All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce limp off the practice field with a hyperextended knee, putting his availability for the Lions in question.
Throw in the fact that Chiefs fans are still talking about their February victory over Philadelphia, their attempt to set a record for largest pregame tailgate, and a banner-raising ceremony greeting their entrance to Arrowhead Stadium and, well, there are more than enough reasons for the Chiefs to be distracted as they begin pursuit of a fourth Super Bowl trip in five years.
“Listen, right now the guys are focused on the Lions,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who has won eight consecutive openers. “All that other stuff — it’s going to be an exciting environment, but right now we’ve got to make sure we’re not looking at all that stuff and we’re looking at the Lions. They get your attention when you watch the tape.”
Indeed, the Lions responded to losing six of their first seven games last season by winning eight of their last 10, and there were few offenses in the NFL that were scoring at the same clip as Jared Goff and Co. down the stretch.
The Lions could be even better on that side of the ball, too. The picked up David Montgomery in free agency, chose fellow running back Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round of the draft and selected tight end Sam LaPorta in the third round.
“The last two years we haven’t started quick,” Goff said. “There’s a little bit of an increased awareness of it, I think, making sure that we don’t dig ourselves in a hole. But the same time, we’re trying to win every game.”
So are the Chiefs, who have done a pretty good job of it.
They have won the AFC West the past seven seasons, hosted the conference title game a record five straight years, and Patrick Mahomes — the reigning league MVP — has never lost an opener in five games as the starting quarterback.
Four of those games the Chiefs won by double digits with Mahomes throwing 18 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
“Obviously the preseason is one thing,” he said, “but taking that next step into the regular season will be big, and it’s not always going to be perfect. But how are you going to battle the entire game to find a way to win?’
MISSING FROM ACTION
Jones has already racked up millions in fines for missing training camp and the preseason, but the Chiefs’ star defensive tackle now faces the prospect of losing about $1.1 million in game checks for each week he is gone.
Jones is entering the final year of a four-year, $80 million deal, and has been holding out in the hopes of landing a more lucrative long-term deal.
The Chiefs’ star tight end hyperextended his knee during Tuesday’s last full workout for the Lions. The 33-year-old Kelce has not missed a game because of injury since his rookie year, when he had surgery on his knee, and he is coming off perhaps the best season of his 10-year career. He had a career-best 110 catches for 1,338 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
PRIMED FOR PRIME TIME
Detroit is aiming to get off to a better start this season and hopes joint practices against the Giants and Jaguars will help.
“It was two good teams, two playoff teams, two teams with completely different styles of defense,” Goff said. “It was a really good four days of work for us and was able to kind of be a barometer for where we were at and some things to learn from.”
The Lions had a top-five offense last season in part because they finished 11th in rushing, their best showing on the ground since 1997, when future Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders had a 2,000-yard season. But they dealt D’Andre Swift to the Eagles and Jamaal Williams left for the Saints, so general manager Brad Holmes signed David Montgomery away from the Bears and drafted Jahmyr Gibbs out of Alabama with the No. 12 pick overall, putting them behind one of the league’s best offensive lines.
“Gibby’s kind of the speed, quick guy and David is a bit more of the stronger,” Goff said. “We plan to hand it off to both of them and throw it to both of them at some points this season and they’re both extremely explosive.”
The Lions are thrilled that Levi Onwuzurike, a backup in 16 games two years ago, is back to bolster their depth on the defensive line. He missed last season with a back injury that required a spinal-fusion surgery that could have ended his career.
“He’s been through a lot and through it all,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said, “and the guy has never complained.”