KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just about the only thing that looked familiar about the NFL’s long-awaited return Thursday night was the sight of Patrick Mahomes effortlessly leading the Kansas City Chiefs up and down the field.

The Super Bowl MVP therw for 211 yards and three touchdowns, Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran through the rain for 138 yards and another score, and the Chiefs began defense of their first championship in 50 years by beating the Houston Texans 34-20 on Thursday night before a socially distanced crowd of about 17,000 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill each caught TD passes for the Chiefs. They have won 10 straight dating to last season. That run includes a come-from-behind 51-31 victory over the Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Texans’ Deshaun Watson threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score, but he also was under relentless pressure and was intercepted once. David Johnson provided the biggest bright spot for Houston, running for 77 yards and a score.

The world has changed dramatically in the seven months since the Chiefs hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Miami.

Within six weeks, the term COVID-19 had become a part of everyday life, the disease killing more than 900,000 people around the globe. The death of George Floyd at the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer in May touched off the Black Lives Matter movement, which in turn has led to a summer of social unrest that has gripped the country.

Against that backdrop came an NFL opener unlike any other: masks worn by everyone from fans to the coaching staffs; a series of videos raising awareness of social justice initiatives and encouraging the public to vote; and ultimately both teams locking arms in a display of unity prior to the coin toss.

To the relief of many, kickoff finally brought 4 hours of normalcy.

The Texans, who blew a 24-point lead against Kansas City in the the playoffs, struck first when they marched 80 yards for a touchdown. The elusive Johnson finished it off by scampering 19 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

But just like that cold January day, the red-hot Chiefs quickly overcame their slow start.

They tied it moments later when Mahomes threw a short touchdown pass to Kelce, then took the lead when they forced a quick punt and Mahomes found Watkins in the end zone. Harrison Butker capped the first half by kicking a chip-shot field goal that sent the Chiefs to the locker room with a 17-7 lead.

Edwards-Helaire, their first-round pick, padded the lead in the third quarter. After ripping off an 11-yard gain early in the drive, the pint-sized dynamo out of LSU unleashed a wicked stutter-step before running 27 yards for another score.

The Chiefs put the game away when rookie L’Darius Sneed picked off Watson’s jump ball in the closing seconds of the third quarter. Mahomes was bailed out of a fourth-down interception by pass interference in the end zone, then he zipped a dart to Hill streaking across the field for a 31-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Watson threw a touchdown pass and ran for a TD later in the quarter to make the final score a bit more respectable.

NOTES

TITANS: Jadeveon Clowney says his choice to join the Tennessee Titans came down to the chance to reunite with Coach Mike Vrabel.

“I just was trying to figure out what scheme and what I wanted to be a part of, and I knew when I was with Vrabel in Houston I was All Pro, second-team All Pro and three Pro Bowls with him,” Clowney said Thursday. “So I was saying in my head I think I can do that with him in that system, and the system worked well.”

The defensive end became a free agent in March. He wanted a big contract in terms of both money and years. He wound up agreeing to a one-year deal with the Titans last weekend after teams like Seattle wanted him back while the Saints, Browns and others also were interested in him.

Clowney can earn up to $15 million this season if he meets some of the incentives in his contract. He made it clear he’s seen enough of the Titans that he can envision a longer tenure than just one season in Tennessee.

“Hopefully they see me as a piece on their defense in the future,” Clowney said.

BRONCOS: Top wide receiver Courtland Sutton injured his right shoulder at practice.

Sutton landed awkwardly after catching a high pass and was being looked at by trainers as the open media period ended.

There was no immediate word about the nature or severity of Sutton’s injury, which occurred 48 hours after the Broncos lost their best player, linebacker Von Miller, to a serious ankle tendon injury at an indoor practice Tuesday.

VALUES: Forbes estimates the Dallas Cowboys are the NFL’s most valuable franchise at $5.7 billion, the 14th consecutive year they’ve held that distinction.

According to the magazine, Jerry Jones’ team is also the most valuable franchise in the world.

After the Cowboys, the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are second in the league at $4.4 billion followed, by the New York Giants at $4.3 billion, the Los Angeles Rams at $4 billion and the San Francisco 49ers at $3.8 billion.

DOLPHINS: Black and white Miami players and Coach Brian Flores released a video on social media saying they’ll protest racial injustice by remaining in their locker room during the national anthem.

The 2-minute, 15-second video featured nearly 20 players trading stern rhymes about the nation’s social protest movement.

“If you speak up for change, then I shut up and play,” safety Bobby McCain said.

The NFL plans to play the national anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – the Black national anthem – before every game this weekend, including the Dolphins’ opener Sunday at New England. The Dolphins have been asked several times this week by reporters whether they’ll stand or kneel for the songs.

“If we could just right our wrongs, we wouldn’t need two songs,” center Ted Karras said in the video.

“We’ll just skip the long production and stay inside,” tight end Mike Gesicki said.

Flores, wearing a T-shirt that read VOTE, closed the video in unity with his players.

“Before the media starts wondering and guessing, they just answered all your questions,” Flores said. “We’ll just stay inside.”

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