Chiefs’ rookie looks like difference-maker

Sam Mcdowell
The Kansas City Star (TNS)
Sep 10, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25) scores a touchdown against Houston Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham (41) during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium.

The most exhilarating player in football is the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, a 24-year-old who broke a championship drought and owns a couple of MVP trophies.

But the most exhilarating play in the Chiefs' 34-20 season-opening win Thursday against the Texans had little to do with Patrick Mahomes. Well, unless you include his handoff.

Yeah, the Chiefs can run the ball now, too.

For one night — opening night — rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire stole the spotlight, introducing himself to the NFL with 25 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown run that will dominate highlight reels.

"I'm kind of just floating," Edwards-Helaire, the first-round pick, said of his emotions after his debut.

He is just the fourth player in the NFL history to top 130 rushing yards and score a touchdown in his NFL debut.

And some touchdown, too.

On an inside zone call, Edwards-Helaire met Texans safety Justin Reid in the secondary after squeezing through the line of scrimmage, a hole created by guard Kelechi Osemele in his first Chiefs start. Reid never stood a chance. He never got a hand on Edwards-Helaire, either. A quick cut, and poof. He was gone, a 27-yard score.

"(Osemele), he ended up pretty much getting everything cleared out. I only had one person to make miss, as far as the safety coming down," Edwards-Helaire said. "Watching film throughout the week, watching games from last year, watching the two games that Houston played the Chiefs last year, just knowing how everybody played on their defense.

"Film study. Filmy study was big for me. That's pretty much how that long run happened."

The first hit eased the jitters, he said. The previous week or two prompted some comfort.

Edwards-Helaire said the confidence he can perform at this level — his realization he belonged — arrived over the past couple of weeks, before he'd ever played a down in the NFL.

Stood out to his teammates long before that.

"I mean he's been doing it since the day he got here," Mahomes said.

In a game in which the Texans seemed intent on taking away the deep ball — and therefore limiting Tyreek Hill — Mahomes threw for just 211 yards. But he accepted what was there.

At times, even extended stretches, that meant a reliance on the run game. The 2019 Chiefs represented a turnstile at running back before Damien Williams' grasp on the job took root in the postseason. Williams is sitting out 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns, instead staying home with his ailing mother.

Edwards-Helaire is the guy. Not the lead of a committee. The guy.

His 25 carries are more than any running back had in a regular season game last season.

And yet...

"For the most part, I'm still on my game," he said 25 minutes after it ended. "Still feeling like I could go out there and play two more quarters."

And thus the rich get richer. That's the idea, right? The Chiefs used their first-round choice to supplement their already-explosive offense. For at least one night, the rookie looks capable of transforming the running game.

He didn't catch a pass, a quality for which he was noted at LSU.

Give it time.

"I thought the offensive line did a great job of giving him holes to run through, and he hit it every single time," Mahomes said. "He's going to keep getting better. It's another weapon that I kind of have in this offense. We're going to keep doing whatever we can to keep moving the ball and scoring touchdowns."