A preseason loss wasn’t how the Kansas City Chiefs intended to get their 2022 campaign underway, but the hard-fought game in Chicago was far from a total waste. Several up-and-coming players stood out on both sides of the ball, and with two exhibition games left to continue improving, the team has plenty of time to get into regular season form before the games actually count.
The final score was reflective of just how close the teams played each other, and based on Patrick Mahomes’ first drive, it isn’t a stretch to think Kansas City would’ve come away victorious in a real game scenario. Preseason football is all about preparation and, to that end, the Chiefs looked good enough to keep the faith regarding another potential Super Bowl run.
Here are four key takeaways from the first action they saw this season:
Justin Watson proved he is worthy of training camp hype
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The Penn product put on a show at Soldier Field and would’ve been a potential player of the game candidate if the Chiefs had pulled out the win. His five catches led all players on both teams. He capped his performance with a fantastic leaping touchdown grab in the second quarter.
“You’ve seen it all training camp, and I saw it all OTAs and everything like that,” Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes said of Watson after the game. “He can fly, but he is a bigger guy and can make the touch catches. Props to Shane (Buechele) because I was saying throw the underneath route on the sideline and get the first down. Shane threw the post down the middle and gave Watson a chance to go up and make the play.”
Watson remains in contention for one of the final receiver spots on Kansas City’s 53-man roster. Another game-changing performance like the one he managed against the Bears would go a long way towards securing that spot. If he looks as good in practice with Mahomes as he did in preseason catching balls from Shane Buechele, he’ll be a hard guy to cut.
Five sacks highlight defensive effort for Chiefs
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The pass rush was in full effect for Kansas City as six players got involved to tally five total sacks in Chicago this week. A change in defensive identity has been one of the key sticking points in camp this offseason. If yesterday’s game was any indication, Kansas City will be looking to get to the quarterback at every opportunity.
Among the players who recorded a sack in the game was rookie George Karlaftis, who got his sack on a nasty rush that came against veteran quarterback Trevor Siemian in the second quarter to force a long fourth down. Granted, any stats accumulated in the preseason don’t ultimately count, but Karlaftis’ explosive moves are reason to celebrate for Chiefs fans who desperately wanted another defensive stud in the draft.
Justin Reid has a legitimately impressive kicking leg
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After hitting a 60-plus yard field goal as a gimmick at practice in St. Joseph, Andy Reid let newly acquired safety Justin Reid let loose on an extra point kick against the Bears to great effect. He nailed it, sending the ball sailing right down the middle to put a cap on what would be Kansas City’s last scoring drive of the game.
“Listen, it’s hard. Truthfully, it’s hard to find a backup kicker,” Reid told reporters after the game. “You can’t carry two of them, right? That’s a tough thing to do. So, for him to be a legitimate kicker, I think is a positive thing for us. He can boom it now. He had the one muff-up in training camp, but he has been pretty good with his kicks.”
Whether this ability will end up being needed in the regular season is doubtful, but Reid’s leg certainly brought some levity to a matchup that wasn’t the most exciting football that will be played this season. If anything happens to Harrison Butker over the course of the Chiefs’ 17-game schedule, the team can rest assured they have a capable kicker behind him on the depth chart, even if they’d likely sign another anyway.
Chiefs rookie defenders steal the show despite loss
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When Kansas City went all-in on drafting defensive talent in the offseason, it was a clear shift in roster construction which will have implications for years to come. Every phase of their defense got an up-and-coming prospect added to the mix, and this preseason exhibition was proof that their investments will likely pay off this year.
From the aforementioned Karlaftis to the game’s leader in tackles linebacker Leo Chenal, things are looking up for the unit. The next two preparatory matchups will be a crucial test of the young talent in the secondary, who were mostly untested in this particular matchup. If they build on the performances of their teammates this week, Kansas City will have a great shot to develop the next generation of defensive talent in 2022.