KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Andy Reid said before the Kansas City Chiefs’ preseason opener that he simply wanted to see his team execute. Nothing fancy. Just get the job done.
He couldn’t have asked the starters to execute a whole lot better.
Led by new quarterback Alex Smith, the Chiefs opened with a grinding, 14-play, 80-yard drive on Friday night in New Orleans. They capped it off with a short touchdown run by Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, who followed right tackle Eric Fisher, their No. 1 overall pick.
When they kicked the ball back to the Saints, a defense that features four more returning Pro Bowl players allowed just one first down before forcing Drew Brees and Co. to punt.
“Alex, I thought, did a nice job,” Reid said. “I thought that the first offense did a nice job. I thought that the first defense did a nice job for the series that they were in.”
After that, well, things fell apart besides special teams.
But in those brief glimpses of the new-look Chiefs that fans in the Superdome or watching on TV were privy to seeing, there were unmistakable signs of progress from last season.
Smith threw just one incompletion on eight pass attempts on the opening drive, and that was a ball thrown away to avoid a sack. It was the kind of cool efficiency that the Chiefs never had from Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn last season.
Not only did Smith complete just about everything, he also spread the ball around.
He kept finding Charles out of the backfield for nickel-and-dime gains, hit tight end Anthony Fasano — another newcomer — for a 12-yard gain and completed another 12-yarder to wide receiver Dexter McCluster that helped to set up Kansas City’s lone touchdown.
“You envision starting off like that, especially in a situation like this,” Smith said. “We came out strong and put a nice drive together, and there were a lot of components to the first drive. We moved the ball, converted some third downs, and down there in the goal-line situation we executed. It was a great start for us and I am proud of the way the offensive line played.”
The Chiefs only managed a couple more field goals after the starters left the game and lost 17-13. But the first-team offense did everything it could on its one drive.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am with the way we played,” McCluster said. “We dominated on the first drive and got the first score. That meant a lot. That shows we’re coming together as a group and that all of the work we’ve done over the last two weeks of practice is paying off.”
The first-team defense performed just as admirably.
They stuffed Saints running back Mark Ingram on their first play of the game, and quickly forced Brees into third-and-long. He converted it with a pass to tight end Ben Watson, but Kansas City recovered to get the Saints into another third-and-long situation.
This time Brees’ pass was incomplete and New Orleans was forced to punt.
The Chiefs had planned to use each of their four quarterbacks for a quarter, but Smith and the rest of the No. 1 offense were so efficient that they earned the rest of the night off.
They didn’t have nearly as much to be excited about once they left the game.
Former Saints backup Chase Daniel, who signed with the Chiefs as a free agent to be the No. 2 quarterback, was constantly harassed behind a patchwork offensive line. He was just 6 of 10 for 42 yards and was sacked twice.
Third-string quarterback Tyler Bray, who has already moved past Ricky Stanzi on the depth chart, showed plenty of rookie jitters, too. He was 3 of 7 for 27 yards.
“We had protection problems on the offensive side. We didn’t have much of a passing game going,” Reid said. “Defensively, we had a couple of series extended because of penalties that ended up being scores, (but) the guys gave a good effort.”
It was a good building block for the Chiefs, too, as they try to put any last vestiges of a 2-14 finish a year ago behind them.