KANSAS CITY – Lamar Hunt, the Kansas City Chiefs’ owner, got the game ball Sunday, and he earned it.
The Chiefs’ offseason moves, re-signing running back Priest Holmes and adding defensive end Vonnie Holliday and linebacker Shawn Barber, paid off.
Holmes proved his health and his worth, and Holliday and Barber anchored the much-improved Kansas City defense in the Chiefs’ 27-14 season-opening win at Arrowhead Stadium.
Behind Holmes and quarterback Trent Green, the Chiefs (1-0) charged out to a 24-0 halftime lead against San Diego.
Holmes, who had surgery on his right hip in the offseason, asserted himself early and often, touching the ball on five of Kansas City’s first six plays and capping an impressive 68-yard opening drive with a 24-yard touchdown run.
“We had that series all scripted,” Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said. “We knew what we were going to do. Very seldom do you script it and it goes like that.”
Kansas City’s offense moved the ball at will, and its defense forced San Diego (0-1) into third-and-long situations it couldn’t convert. Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson couldn’t get good yardage on first and second downs, and quarterback Drew Brees rarely had enough time to set up in the pocket, let alone to find open receivers downfield.
“That all goes back to Vonnie Holliday,” Barber said. “On the fourth play of the game, he came out and made a big sack. That sets the tempo and gets the quarterback uneasy. If you can get to him in that first drive, it kind of gets his timing off for the rest of the game.”
Even more than the Kansas City defense disrupted Brees, it shut down Tomlinson, who rushed 13 times for 34 yards. Brees and Tomlinson gave some of the credit to the crowd of 78,048 that kept it loud when the San Diego offense was on the field.
While Tomlinson struggled, Kansas City gave San Diego a steady diet of Holmes, both on the ground and catching passes out of the backfield. He finished with 183 total yards, including 85 yards rushing on 18 carries, showing no lingering signs of injury.
“A lot of people said he probably wouldn’t come back this year,” Chiefs fullback Tony Richardson said. “He showed today that he’s on his way to being 100 percent. To me, he looks like he is 100 percent.”
Holmes could have had more yardage, but he had several plays called back on penalties.
“I’m just sorry to see he didn’t get his 100 yards rushing,” Vermeil said. “I thought he ran real well, I was disappointed to see those two big plays called back.”
The Chiefs defense, which ranked last in the league last season, got a boost from Holliday and Barber, who were signed as unrestricted free agents. Tomlinson was impressed with the entire defense, though, not just the new faces.
“It wasn’t just Holliday,” he said. “It was the whole defense. Holliday, obviously, had a good game, but those guys were really playing well.”
Holliday tormented Brees all day, sacking him three times, deflecting a pass at the line of scrimmage and forcing him to rush several passes. Barber led the Chiefs with six tackles and had two near interceptions bounce out of his hands.
“I think those guys are going to be something special,” Vermeil said.
There were some anxious moments for a while early on, though.
With a 7-0 lead, Kansas City appeared to be self-destructing. Holliday was called for roughing the passer when he hit Brees helmet-to-helmet after an incompletion that would have given the Chargers a fourth-and-18. Instead, the Chargers had a first down at the Kansas City 42.
Three plays later, it looked as though the Chargers would have first-and-goal at the 1 because of a pass interference call against Barber, but, after the officials conferred, tight end Josh Norman was also called for pass interference, and the penalties offset. On the next play, Greg Wesley intercepted a Brees pass, setting up the Chiefs’ second scoring drive.
San Diego tried to mount a late charge when Jerry Wilson sacked Green, knocking the ball loose, and Marcellus Wiley recovered the fumble. That gave the Chargers the ball at the Kansas City 23, but they were unable to take advantage.Wesley and defensive end Eric Hicks stopped Tomlinson on fourth-and-1 at the 14.
“The D-line just kind of crushed them,” Barber said. “They just made a new line of scrimmage about a yard behind the ball, and everybody just swarmed to the ball. That was a big momentum buster.”
The Chiefs weren’t out of the woods yet, though. On the Chargers’ next drive, Brees found Eric Parker through double coverage in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown with 4:32 left, making it 27-14, but it was too late. After the Chiefs’ next drive stalled, Shaunard Harts intercepted Brees at the San Diego 39 and Kansas City ran out the clock.
Leading 14-0 early in the second quarter, the Chiefs went for more. Green threw Holmes a screen pass and Holmes made a couple of Chargers miss in the open field. Needing one block to spring him for a touchdown, Holmes appeared to have it from center Casey Wiegmann, but Wiegmann slipped and fell and Wilson brought down Holmes at the 20. The 31-yard gain was the Chiefs’ longest play.
On the next play, Johnnie Morton made a sliding touchdown catch from Green and the Kansas City led 21-0.
Quentin Jammer’s interception set up San Diego’s first scoring drive, which ended with Brees’ 21-yard touchdown pass to Norman.
Morten Andersen kicked field goals of 42 and 46 yards for Kansas City.