USA TODAY US Edition
Browns’ hopes sinking fast
Jones: Coach Kitchens seems overmatched
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Damien Wilson didn’t even wait until question’s end before he interjected.
“Awesome,” the Chiefs’ linebacker told USA TODAY Sports after the Packers’ 31-24 win Sunday night. “Them boys was lights out. They played absolutely amazing.”
The Chiefs’ defense doled out praise along those lines to the Aaron RodgersAaron Jones attack that outlasted relentless pressure from defenders like Wilson.
But Wilson’s praise for boys playing lights out wasn’t for Rodgers and his again-spectacular play making. It wasn’t for the five-sack, 12-hit Whacka-Rodgers effort to which Wilson contributed three hits and one sack. (Through Green Bay’s first seven games, Rodgers was hit an average of 4.2.)
No, Wilson’s praise for absolutely amazing play was how he characterized Kansas City backup quarterback Matt Moore’s first start in place of reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. Teammates across the locker room agreed.
“He’s been in the league for a while, he’s seen a lot of defenses and he knows a lot of calls,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens told USA TODAY Sports. “That’s exactly why they brought him up.”
Added tight end Travis Kelce: “Played outstanding. The ball was right there every time I can think of.”
The Chiefs lamented their third loss. But they didn’t lament Moore’s play.
Moore last started a game in the NFL nearly two years ago, on Nov. 26, 2017. He last started a game he didn’t turn the ball over in 2,884 days ago (a December 2011 win versus Oakland). So sure, teammates insisted, Moore’s veteran experience might have helped him learn the playbook, incorporate smoothly into Andy Reid’s offense and spread around balls to Chiefs targets with poise.
But that doesn’t guarantee execution when replacing the league’s reigning MVP in Mahomes (dislocated right kneecap). Moore’s 24 of 36 night with 267 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers and a 107.1 passer rating qualified as more than game management.
Take his 29-yard touchdown pass to Kelce in the second quarter.
Moore faked a handoff to receiver Tyreek Hill before lobbing a ball right toward the end zone where Kelce was headed. The play was one the Chiefs had drawn up and practiced during the week’s game prep. But the practice run hadn’t generated as much pressure as Moore encountered when Packers defensive end Dean Lowry and outside linebacker Rashan Gary beat their blocks and readied to crush Moore.
“I had to get rid of it a little sooner than we anticipated,” Moore explained afterward.
Kelce hadn’t yet turned out where Moore needed him to complete the play. So the 35-year-old lobbed the pass to buy time for his tight end. It worked. The Chiefs were on the board after opening in a 14-point hole. They’d score 17 unanswered points before halftime, as Moore kept pace with Rodgers through three quarters.
In fact, entering the fourth, each team was at 17. Rodgers had completed 69% of throws (20 of 29) for 227 yards, one touchdown and a 103.7 passer rating. Moore had connected on 67% (18 of 27) for 209 yards, two scores and a 114.6 rating (Rodgers had taken four more sacks).
The Chiefs answered the Packers’ five-play, 27-yard scoring drive with a 10-play, 75-yard march to the end zone of their own.
But Rodgers and Aaron Jones’ last stab – Rodgers to Jones in the backfield almost simultaneously with the snap, that Jones took 67 yards to the house – was one too many.
Moore hit Kelce on 3rd-and-3 long enough to move the chains, but Packers cornerback Chandler Sullivan reached in front of Kelce and batted down the pass before the tight end could secure it. The Chiefs punted on 4th-and-3 and didn’t get the ball back.
“Aaron Rodgers just being Aaron Rodgers,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said simply.
But as Mahomes waited in the tunnel hallway outside the Chiefs’ locker room with his brother and girlfriend, his teammates told reporters that Moore’s performance reassured them for the one or two more games before Mahomes’ return from rehab. Moore already identified areas in his footwork, throwing motion and pocket presence versus the Packers that he wants to correct. He said he felt nervous, naturally, but not rusty. Another good sign: The Chiefs didn’t need to simplify their game plan without Mahomes.
“He was ready,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He spent a lot of time at it. We didn’t hold a lot back and you can’t against a team like this.
“He stepped his game up. He wanted everything. He attacked it during the week and studied. Like I said, he did a respectable job.”