The NFL's 101st season kicked off Thursday, the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs again dismantling the Houston Texans in a 34-20 win that wasn't as close as the score might indicate.
But hey, the winners go beyond the Chiefs and the losers are more bountiful than the Texans … so let's discuss:
Football fans: You obviously want all players and, in Kansas City's case, fans to emerge safely after a night at the stadium for what amounts to a largely frivolous distraction. But, man, it sure was nice to have NFL football back on time.
Sports fans: For those of you whose minds wandered in an admittedly boring Chiefs runaway, you could surf to Major League Baseball action, NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, the WNBA or even MLS (if you're into that … yikes). First time in sports history that all those leagues played simultaneously.
Patrick Mahomes: Kansas City's superstar quarterback is growing into his unofficial role as the face of the league, on the field and off. While the 2018 NFL MVP and Super Bowl LIV MVP may be tackling more important matters in his free time, he still posted 211 efficient, turnover-free passing yards and three TDs at his day job – his first game action in more than seven months.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: Please note, Nate Davis was the lone wolf among the USA TODAY Sports NFL staff to foresee offensive rookie of the year honors for the first-rounder from LSU. In his debut for the Chiefs, Edwards-Helaire rushed for 138 yards and a score … and sure looks destined to add yet another dimension to what was already a lethal offense.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25) scores a touchdown against Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. (Photo: Denny Medley, USA TODAY Sports)
David Johnson: He's no DeAndre Hopkins, but the ex-Cardinals running back – acquired this offseason in the infamous deal for the Texans superstar receiver – looked spry and much closer to his 2016 All-Pro form, amassing 109 total yards and a score.
Kansas City streaking: When these clubs last met in January, in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Texans bolted to a 24-0 lead … before the Chiefs ripped off 41 straight en route to a 51-31 triumph. Thursday, Houston again struck first thanks to Johnson's 19-yard, first-quarter TD gallop … and then Kansas City went on a 31-0 tear. Like any good NBA team, the Chiefs always have a run in them.
Super Bowl banner: Does anybody do it bigger than Kansas City? How 'bout those … Chiiiiiefs?
How’s it feel, #ChiefsKingdom? pic.twitter.com/bd8EtinhmM
Social justice: Chiefs and Texans players locked arms in a show of unity before kickoff. "End racism" and "It takes all of us" were painted in the end zones. "Lift Every Voice and Sing," aka the Black national anthem, was played prior to "The Star-Spangled Banner." The NFL is trying to call attention to the country's inescapable issues …
Social justice: … but it all unfolded rather awkwardly, the Chiefs on the field for the pre-game songs while the Texans chose to emerge from the tunnel following the national anthem. Some fans booed when the players stood united, an outcome Houston's J.J. Watt deemed "unfortunate." NBC's telecast addressed race relations occasionally but also abruptly pivoted. Probably gonna be more somewhat disjointed displays across the league this weekend – some fans supportive, others not so much (for whatever reason) – and it's worth wondering if the primary messaging will get overshadowed … as it did in 2016.
J.J. Watt’s full quote when asked about the #texans staying in the locker room and the moment of unity on the field.
“The moment of unity I personally thought was good. I mean the booing during that moment was unfortunate.” pic.twitter.com/3fGAN5qatN
Super Bowl celebration: Bummer for the Chiefs and Kansas City fans that Arrowhead Stadium, which opened in 1972, had to be mostly empty the first time it began a season housing a defending Super Bowl champion while celebrating the long-awaited return of the Lombardi Trophy.
AFC West: The Chiefs begin their title defense with a decisive W that immediately vaults them atop the division, one they've won annually since 2016. Elsewhere, the Broncos are down Von Miller, and the Chargers have lost Derwin James – and the Raiders still don't have Khalil Mack, right? – before any of those teams have played a snap. Too early to put the "x" next to Kansas City, denoting a clinched playoff berth?
Bill O'Brien: Let's not overstate this based on one evening, and the Texans coach certainly drew the short straw having to open at Arrowhead. (And don't worry, Billy O., you now get 10 days to prepare for Baltimore … oy!) But, based on a one-night sample size, you'd have to say O'Brien the GM should've hung onto Hopkins, done more to support newly minted QB Deshaun Watson's supporting cast and perhaps taken a harder look at the defense. Hopkins' de facto replacements, WRs Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb, combined for four catches and 43 yards in their Houston reveal.
Anthony Weaver: Tough start for Houston's rookie defensive coordinator. Did I mention the Ravens are the Texans' next opponent?
Andy Reid's face shield: The NFL's favorite beekeeper needs a defogger for his visor.
Andy Reid with the full visor over his face for tonight’s game. pic.twitter.com/yEzJSqsARD
Liam McHugh: Wear a mask, dude – something even Mahomes did at times on the field. Just because you've got an NBC mic, you shouldn't wade into the stands without a facial covering when fans you're standing near are required to do so.
Stadium ushers here in KC spreading the word. pic.twitter.com/QicGeUsSWu
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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