Lions vs. Chiefs score, takeaways: Detroit stuns defending champs in 2023 NFL opener with fourth quarter rally
The Lions kicked off the new season with an impressive win
The upstart Detroit Lions knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions In the opening game of the 2023 NFL season, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs by a score of 21-20.
Kansas City had numerous chances to come away with a win, but was ultimately done in by mistakes from its crew of wide receivers. Kadarius Toney had three drops, one of which resulted in a pick-six. Skyy Moore had a drop. Jerick McKinnon had another. Toney lost yards on a jet sweep on second-and-1, which turned a potential touchdown drive into a field goal. Rashee Rice later lost yardage on a third-and-1 reverse, turning a first down into a punt. They let Patrick Mahomes down throughout the contest.
Given an opening by their opponents, the Lions took advantage. They trailed 14-7 at the half, but after Toney's drop resulted in rookie defensive back Brian Branch tying the game at 14 and miscues by the Chiefs led to two promising drives ending in field goals, Detroit put together a nine-play, 75-yard drive that mostly involved David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs finding lanes in the run game and ended with Montgomery crashing into the end zone for the eventual game-winning score.
The Chiefs had one last chance to mount a game-winning drive after the Lions turned it over on downs near midfield, but Toney's third drop, followed by a holding penalty on Donovan Smith and then a false start on Jawaan Taylor, torpedoed those hopes. The Chiefs gave the ball back on downs themselves, and the Lions ran out the clock, earning themselves a 1-0 start to the year while the champs dropped to 0-1.
Here are some immediate takeaways from the opener:
Why the Lions won
They fought the fight. Cliche, perhaps, but in an ugly affair for both sides, this team truly embodied its head coach's grit-it-out mentality, as evidenced by a sluggish but ultimately crucial ground game and physical play from an improved secondary.
David Montgomery didn't find many open holes on 21 carries as the steadiest "weapon" of Detroit's attack -- rookie Jahmyr Gibbs was much more dynamic in limited work, averaging 6.7 yards per touch -- but helped Dan Campbell's squad win the time-of-possession battle. Jared Goff was similarly effective, excelling most at ball control. And yet it was the "D," with newcomers Brian Branch, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Jack Campbell, that helped seal the deal, getting hands all over wayward passes and unreliable young wide receivers on the Chiefs' end. They'll need to clean things up to sustain success, but they had the requisite punch.
Why the Chiefs lost
So that thing about Patrick Mahomes not really needing any sure thing at wide receiver? Yeah, it was put to the test with star tight end Travis Kelce absent due to injury. Andy Reid's creativity was deployed awkwardly this time around, which didn't help, at one point taking the ball out of Mahomes' hands on a crucial late third down. But the clear culprit for this defeat was the pass-catching corps, where youngsters like Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore repeatedly struggled to hang onto the ball.
Mahomes was magic on essentially just a single drive that included a deep shot to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but even his frustrations seemed to leak into his play, as he sailed several downfield targets over or under his wideouts. Still, on a night he basically had zero ground support (other than his own legs), it was painful to watch him constantly spread the ball around, only for Toney and Moore to forfeit several wide-open opportunities. Nothing was ever fully in sync.
The Chiefs remained in this one until the final minute or so, but you can point to their final few possessions as confirmation of legitimate offensive concerns. Faced with a third-and-1 with more than six minutes left, Reid dialed up a direct snap to tight end Blake Bell, who then handed the ball to rookie Rashee Rice, only for Detroit to stuff it easily.
The Lions would proceed to turn the ball over on downs on their ensuing possession, but it didn't matter, because in K.C.'s next try, Reid's unit once again flopped. This time left tackle Donovan Smith's holding penalty reversed a big gain, and Reid unsuccessfully opted to go for a fourth-and-20 from his own 35, even with two minutes and three timeouts left.
The entire sequence seemed to indicate that, unlike in years past, Mahomes and Reid did not, in fact, have a trick up their sleeve. And all the Lions needed to do was keeping pounding on the ground to lock it up.
Play of the game
Early in the third, Mahomes and Co. were looking to extend their lead to two scores up 14-7 and driving toward midfield when Brian Branch snagged his game-shifting pick-six, announcing his arrival to the NFL:
The Lions (1-0) will bask in their season-opening upset before returning on Sept. 17 for a Week 2 showdown with the Seahawks. The Chiefs (0-1) will hope Travis Kelce is truly ready for their next matchup, an afternoon road game against Trevor Lawrence and the upstart Jaguars.
And that's gonna be the game. Lions can pretty much kneel on it and run out the clock.
Good point here: Chiefs kicked on multiple fourth-and-shorts earlier.
One first down wins the game for the Lions here. KC is hoping to stop the clock with three timeouts and get the ball back.
Ugly throw by Patrick Mahomes on third-and-long; probably should've been picked by C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
Not a good sequence for KC right there. Toney drop, then a Donovan Smith holding penalty wipes out the big play to Skyy Moore. All of a sudden the Chiefs look much less certain to win this.
Yeah, right decision to go for it on fourth-and-short at midfield by the Lions, but why play conservative ball before that just to milk a few seconds off the clock? Even tonight, you wanna attack the Chiefs on the road.
Well, now Mahomes has a chance to go win the game with a short field... and Kadarius Toney drops his third wide-open pass of the game. Good lord.
Unless the Lions are about to go for it on fourth down, that was a questionable run call on third down.