On Thursday at Gillette Stadium, a star was born.
Kansas City Chiefs rookie runner Kareem Hunt took over the NFL's opening night matchup of Super Bowl contenders, captivating a national audience largely expecting a one-sided affair in favor of the defending champion New England Patriots.
Hunt arrived in KC with relatively modest expectations for his rookie season. Spencer Ware sat atop the depth chart having won the job from All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles the previous year. However, Hunt's trajectory changed late in the preseason after Ware suffered a torn MCL and PCL, ending his season prematurely. The injury pushed the rookie tailback out of Toledo into the lead role with less than a week to prepare for the season opener against the Pats.
For a brief moment during the first quarter, it seemed Hunt's lack of experience would cost him and the team dearly. On the first play of the Chiefs' opening possession with the team already down 7-0, Hunt fumbled the ball to New England, setting up the Pats in great field position with a chance to go up by two scores. Such an inauspicious start can test the mettle of a young player and the patience of a coaching staff.
Wisely, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid didn't overreact to Hunt's turnover, allowing the rookie to learn from his mistake and play a big role in the offense.
The decision paid off. Hunt finished the game with three touchdowns and 246 total yards from scrimmage, a record for an NFL debut and an astounding performance by any measure. Along with contributions from the similarly electric Tyreek Hill and a career night for quarterback Alex Smith, the Chiefs upset the Patriots 42-27.
Beyond just the statistical output, Hunt's performance showcased versatility not always on display during his collegiate career at Toledo. It stands as a testament to the Chiefs' coaching staff that Hunt rounded out his skill set in such a short period of time. For an offense that lacked a clear identity post-Charles, Hunt appears to have given the unit an edge from which Kansas City can construct a new one.
Not everything went right for Kansas City, however. Eric Berry left the game with an apparent ruptured Achilles, an injury that could sideline the All-Pro safety for the rest of the season. The loss of such a crucial piece would significantly lower the ceiling for a defense that previously looked like one of the best in the league.
Still, with Hunt leading the upset of New England, the Chiefs further established themselves as the team to beat in the highly competitive AFC West. The Chiefs have plenty of difficult games remaining on their schedule -- namely tilts against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and their divisional slate -- but no game offered more obvious challenges than Thursday night's affair.
All of which makes Kansas City's win look even more impressive. The 42 points the offense put on the board marks the most every allowed by the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era. The total also rank as the most the Chiefs have scored in a single game in nearly two years. For a team that failed to score as many as 20 points in six of their outings last season, putting up such an impressive scoring output against an elite team represents a meaningful step forward.
The Chiefs can't expect Hunt and company to produce in such lofty amounts, but their dominant performance against the Patriots could mark the beginning of a more explosive offense. Such a thing could make the normally conservative Reid do more of this: