KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Happy birthday, Patrick Mahomes!
The Kansas City Chiefs’ all-world quarterback celebrated his 28th birthday with two touchdown passes in a 17-9 win at Jacksonville.
The Chiefs — who welcomed back two All-Pros, defensive tackle Chris Jones and tight end Travis Kelce — overcame 12 penalties for 94 yards and three first-half turnovers in a sloppy performance.
But a road victory was the mission, which coach Andy Reid’s crew accomplished.
“I was proud of the guys that they kept fighting,” said Mahomes, who finished 29 of 41 for 305 yards and threw one interception.
With the win, Kansas City avoided its first 0-2 start since 2014, which was Reid’s second season with the Chiefs and the only season during his reign when the team failed to reach the postseason.
Credit Kansas City’s defense for keeping things close in a sloppy first half.
The Chiefs didn’t score until the final 30 seconds of the second quarter, but the defense stifled the Jaguars on the ground and punished quarterback Trevor Lawrence when he dropped back in a gritty (albeit unsightly) win.
“I’ll take a ‘dub’ any way we can get it, man,” said Kelce, who had four catches for 26 yards with a 9-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.
Jacksonville finished with only 271 yards and averaged a meager 4.2 yards on offense.
The Jags managed only 74 yards on the ground, holding Travis Etienne Jr. to 12 carries for 40 yards, while Lawrence went 22 of 41 for 216 yards with no touchdowns.
The Chiefs hit Lawrence seven times and sacked him four times, including 1 1/2 sacks for Jones and George Karlaftis.
“Offensively, we’ve got to take care of the penalties and the turnovers, but to battle through it shows me something,” Reid said.
Rookie defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah, a Lee’s Summit native and former Kansas State star, notched his first half-sack and Mike Danna also had a half-sack in leading the charge.
Meanwhile, the offense totaled 399 yards but converted only 4 of 13 third downs.
TACKLE TROUBLES: Kansas City gave former Jacksonville tackle Jawaan Taylor a big free-agent contract in the offseason and let its former Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. walk.
Initially, there were plans to convert Taylor to a left tackle to replace Brown, who signed with Cincinnati, but that changed after the Chiefs signed veteran Donovan Smith.
Kansas City believed it had upgraded at the tackle spots with Smith at left tackle and Taylor at right tackle — a position previously occupied by Andrew Wylie, who followed Eric Bieniemy to Washington in free agency.
But a penalty-filled two weeks have the Chiefs’ new tackles catching some heat.
Smith, who set a career-high with seven holding penalties last season with Tampa Bay, was flagged for his second holding penalty in as many weeks during the first quarter.
Meanwhile, Taylor had a critical false start for the second straight week.
After his alignment against Detroit came under intense scrutiny, including the NFL apparently flagging it as illegal in its weekly video for officials, Taylor got dinged for illegal formation.
“Through social media, you knew that some of this was going to get called, but he’s going to continue to get better and better,” Mahomes said. “They’re cracking down on some of the alignment stuff, but we’re just playing football.”
Mahomes seemed to imply that Taylor isn’t the only tackle who lines up as deep as possible but that he’s being singled out after the Detroit game — a game that took place three days before any other NFL teams kicked off the season, resulting in added scrutiny.
“It’s hard whenever you’re kind of getting picked on a little bit to keep playing your game, but I have all the confidence in him in the world,” Mahomes said.
On the second drive of the third quarter, Taylor was flagged for holding and was pulled for the backup swing tackle, Prince Tega Wanogho. Taylor returned for the next drive and had a second false start in the fourth quarter.
“I took him out for a couple plays so he could step back,” Reid said of Taylor's brief benching. “This is home — not only home, but it’s also where he played. Just step back then let us get you back out there. He had some big blocks later in the game, so he did a nice job finishing.”
Lucas Niang and rookie Wanya Morris were not active for the game.
TRAVIS KELCE IMPACT: Two days before the Chiefs’ opener, Kelce suffered a hyperextended knee and missed the season-opening loss to Detroit. It was the first game he’d missed due to injury since his rookie season in 2013.
Smith, the left tackle, had more targets than Kelce on the opening drive.
Mahomes scrambled in the pocket to avoid pressure on third down and mistakenly fired a pass to Smith for a declined illegal touching penalty as the Chiefs went three-and-out.
Kelce was unable to hang on to the first target on Kansas City’s second drive as safety Rayshawn Jenkins knocked the ball free.
Later in the drive, Kelce caught a third-down pass for a conversion after Mahomes scrambled, showing off the second-reaction chemistry the two have, but the catch was erased by a Smith holding penalty, and the Chiefs punted.
There were three minutes left in the first half before Kelce caught another pass, but it also was erased by penalty when Taylor was flagged for illegal formation.
Kelce’s first catch, a 7-yard reception, came around the 1:30 mark in the first half. It was his only catch before halftime.
Kelce shook off a slow first half to finish with four catches for 26 yards and a TD.
The Chiefs made a concerted effort to get Kelce the ball on the opening drive of the second half. He caught a 6-yard pass and 9-yard touchdown as Kansas City pumped its lead to 14-6.
The touchdown was vintage Mahomes-to-Kelce.
Mahomes broke the pocket, scrambled right and Kelce found a blank space in the end zone for the easy pitch and catch.
“I knew once Pat broke contain where a soft spot was going to be,” Kelce said.
Kelce narrowly missed a second touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
WELCOME BACK, CHRIS JONES: Jones sat out the entire preseason. He skipped OTAs, the mandatory minicamp, training camp and watched the loss to the Lions from his suite at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Four days after skipping a game, and losing a more than $1 million game check, Jones ended his holdout, agreeing to a reworked one-year deal.
He practiced in a limited capacity all week and played limited snaps compared to his usual workload against the Jags.
On Jacksonville’s opening drive, Jones lined up at left defensive end on both third-down plays.
He pressured Trevor Lawrence on the first one, beating rookie right tackle Anton Harrison around the edge and forcing Lawrence to step up in the pocket, where defensive ends George Karlaftis and Mike Danna were waiting for a drive-ending sack.
Eventually, the Chiefs bumped Jones inside, where he had a key pressure on third down, though Lawrence escaped for a short gain, then recorded his first sack of the season on back-to-back second-quarter drives.
Late in the third quarter, Jones ended another Jags drive by batting away a third-down Lawrence swing pass to force a punt.
Inside the final 5 minutes and with the Chiefs nursing a 17-9 lead, Jones again got to Lawrence, who threw a backward pass to avoid the sack.
It was initially ruled incomplete, but Reid successfully challenged and the Jags lost two yards on the play.
Jones finished with two tackles, including 1 1/2 sacks, and two QB hits.
TONEY/MOORE REDEMPTION (MOSTLY): The Chiefs fed Kadarius Toney early and worked in Skyy Moore as the game progressed.
The two combined for five drops and only one reception in the Detroit loss, but Toney had three catches for 41 yards and Moore added two catches for 16 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown late in the first half.
It was an encouraging sign for the duo, who faced added scrutiny after the Week 1 no-show with Kelce injured.
Toney, who had the longest punt return in Super Bowl history, and Moore both scored a fourth-quarter touchdown in Kansas City’s Super Bowl LVII win and were expected to build on that in the 2023 season.
They did in the first half, but Moore missed a block and Toney fumbled a receiver screen late in the third quarter. Toney corralled the loose ball, but it resulted in a 12-yard loss that short-circuited the drive with the Chiefs trying to build on a 14-6 lead.
But on perhaps the biggest play of the game, Mahomes bought some time rolling right on the final play before the two-minute warning and floated a deep pass to Moore for a 54-yard catch and run that iced the win.
It was Kansas City’s longest play of the young season by 20 yards.
“He had a big game today,” Mahomes said. “I was happy for him, and I think he’ll continue to build as well as those other receivers. I feel like there was a lot of positives with them.”
Toney finished with five catches for 35 yards and also had a 3-yard run, while Moore had three receptions for 70 yards and a TD.
REID RISING: Including the playoffs, Reid has now coached 270 wins as an NFL head coach, which is tied with Dallas Cowboys legend Tom Landry for the fourth-most in pro football history.
“That’s awesome,” Mahomes said. “That truly is awesome.”
Reid improved to 248-138-1. He’s also 22-16 in the postseason for an overall record of 270-154-1.
Landry went 250-162-6 in the regular season and 20-16 in the playoffs with the Cowboys from 1960 to 1988. His overall mark is 270-178-6.
“At the end of the day, obviously he’s a great coach, but it’s the person,” said Mahomes, who is 76-20 in his NFL career, including the postseason. “I think the person is what makes him so special, the way he’s able to relate to everybody. I think everybody in this locker room would say the same thing — y’all know that.”
Only Don Shula, George Halas and Bill Belichick have won more games as an NFL coach than Reid and Landry.
UP NEXT: The Chiefs return to Arrowhead for a showdown with Justin Fields and Chicago at 3:25 p.m. next Sunday.
The Bears’ leadership has plenty of local connections.
GM Ryan Poles was plucked from Brett Veach’s staff and coach Matt Eberflus, who played for Gary Pinkel at Toledo in college, served as Mizzou’s defensive coordinator and associate head coach for eight seasons (2001-08).
Eberflus spent 17 total years on Pinkel’s staff with the Rockets and Tigers before jumping to the NFL.