Jared Goff threw for 253 yards and a touchdown, new Lions running back David Montgomery ran for the go-ahead score with 5:05 remaining, and Detroit held on for a 21-20 victory over the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL’s season opener on Thursday night.
Amon-Ra St Brown had six catches for 71 yards and a score, and Lions rookie Brian Branch returned an interception 50 yards for another touchdown as Detroit snapped the Chiefs’ eight-game Week 1 winning streak. It was the first time Patrick Mahomes had thrown an interception in a season opener.
The Lions were trying to run out the clock when Goff had a fourth-down pass near midfield batted down with 2:30 left, giving the Chiefs a chance. But they made a mess of it: Kadarius Toney dropped a potential 20-yard gain, another 20-yard pass was called back for holding, and Skyy Moore also dropped a pass before a false start left Mahomes heaving a fourth-and-25 throw downfield.
When it fell incomplete and Detroit took over, Montgomery ran for a first down that allowed the Lions to run out the clock.
Mahomes finished with 226 yards passing and two touchdowns, despite his receivers dropping a slew of passes. He also was the leading rusher for the Chiefs, whose self-inflicted wounds proved too much to overcome.
There had been equal parts anticipation and anxiety leading up to the game in Kansas City, where the Chiefs celebrated their previous Lombardi Trophy in the midst of a pandemic, and only about 18,000 fans were able to join in the revelry. Hundreds began tailgating outside the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot on Thursday, waiting for the gates to open 14 hours prior to kickoff.
That was the anticipation. The anxiety came from the absence of injured Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and fellow All-Pro Chris Jones, who is in the midst of a contract holdout. The defensive tackle was expected to miss the opener, but Kelce had only been questionable since Tuesday, when he hyperextended his knee in the final full practice before game day.
Detroit scored first in a showdown of two of the league’s top offenses a year ago. Goff took advantage of a clean pocket, thanks in part to Jones sitting in a stadium suite, to march down field and find St Brown with a nine-yard touchdown pass.
The Chiefs answered with Mahomes finding five different wide receivers, the last of them rookie Rashee Rice, who atoned for an earlier drop by snaring a short touchdown pass to knot the game at 7-7.
It remained that way until Detroit coach Dan Campbell made a questionable decision late in the half.
The Chiefs were facing fourth-and-two near midfield but had been called for holding, and rather than decline the penalty, Campbell chose to push them back. Mahomes responded to third-and-17 by hitting Marquez Valdes-Scantling with a 24-yard strike. He added a 26-yard pass to Justin Watson, then hit Blake Bell with a short TD throw to give the Chiefs a 14-7 halftime lead.
With the Lions’ offense going nowhere, the defense stepped up. Branch caught a pass that bounced off Toney’s hands – the receiver had several drops in the game – and found nothing but 50 yards of grass separating him from the end zone and a 14-14 tie.
Up to that point, Mahomes had thrown 20 touchdown passes and no interceptions in five-plus season openers.
The Chiefs tacked on two field goals, but the missed chances to get into the end zone proved costly. The Lions followed up Harrison Butker’s second field goal by driving 75 yards, twice converting on third down, with Montgomery capping the march with a nine-yard touchdown run to give Detroit the the lead for good.