KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the first time in seven months, Patrick Mahomes took the field at Arrowhead and led a touchdown drive.
He wowed the crowd with a 36-yard pass to Travis Kelce to open the Chiefs' first drive and danced around for a 10-yard gain that stopped just short of the goal line.
But for once, the night wasn't about him.
Instead, the Chiefs' preseason debut — a 38-17 win against the Bengals — belonged to the rookies.
Over half of the Chiefs' five touchdowns were scored by rookies, beginning with Mecole Hardman's 17-yarder on a jet sweep early in the second quarter.
"I love seeing all them boys play," Hardman said of the rookies' performance. "You know, seeing how hard we work through training camp, just to actually go on the field in a game against other people, it was fun to watch."
Hardman showed off his 4.33 40-yard-dash speed throughout the night — a trait that majorly contributed the Chiefs trading up to draft him in May. Hardman finished his first outing as a Chief with two catches for 31 yards. The touchdown, which showcased that speed, came on a play he worked on dozens of times in practice.
"They called my number, and in this league, when they call your number you've got to take advantage of everything you get," Hardman said. "I just took advantage of it. I saw the hole, I saw the crease. I just wanted to hit it and get in the end zone."
Like Hardman, fellow draft pick Darwin Thompson also showed off impressive speed in the open field, scoring a 29-yard catch-and-run touchdown early in the third quarter. Thompson caught a pass from Chase Litton over the middle, then ran to the left toward the corner of the end zone, outrunning defenders as he finished with a touchdown.
"You see the explosiveness, just to get the ball in the open field and to be able to make them miss but also play with a lot of strength and run very hard," Mahomes said. "So I mean, it's always good to see those young guys start to really understand the offense, really understand what they have to do to succeed in the offense and play faster and faster each week."
With starting running back Damien Williams out for the game, and Carlos Hyde and Darrel Williams taking limited reps with the first-string, Thompson made the most of an increased workload. He led the Chiefs with five carries for 22 yards, and he showed his strength when he muscled through two Cincinnati defenders, including linebacker Germaine Pratt, in the second quarter.
Some of Thompson's best flashes didn't even make the box score. In the third quarter, Thompson muscled up the middle for a strong 16-yard run and hurdle to the 3-yard line. But the play was called back thanks to a holding penalty on Ryan Hunter.
And on the offensive line, Nick Allegretti, the final pick of the Chiefs' 2019 draft class, played with the second team offensive line at left guard.
Not to be outdone by the drafted rookies, UDFA Josh Caldwell, a product of Northwest Missouri and Missouri Western, burst out for a 47-yard run just before the two-minute warning to put the Chiefs on the 4-yard line.
Caldwell finished off his big run a play later with a 4-yard touchdown run.
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur, a fellow undrafted free agent, also had a solid night, beginning when he started the second quarter. The decision to give Shurmur the second quarter deviated from Andy Reid's initial game plan. Shurmur was scheduled to play the third quarter, but took over in the second after a handful of plays by backup Chad Henne to finish the first.
Shumur finished the night completing 6 of 15 attempts for 77 yards and a touchdown. He nearly had an interception, but the defender was whistled for defensive pass interference after review.
It wasn't all positive for the offensive rookies, though. Tight end John Lovett's night ended early. He went out in the third quarter with a shoulder injury and didn't return. Reid announced afterward Lovett separted his right shoulder, but they were able to pop it back in.
Defensively, the rookies didn't have as much of an impact, but they did get significant game experience. Sixth-round pick Rashad Fenton rotated in at second-team nickel, playing behind Kendall Fuller. He saw action as early as the Bengals' opening drive.
Second-rounder Juan Thornhill was a little more limited, coming on for Daniel Sorensen more frequently starting with the second drive.
Once the first-string's night was done for good, Thornhill primarily played free safety with second-year player Armani Watts at strong safety. The pair combined to stymie a Cincinnati drive midway through the third quarter. Thornhill tackled tight end Mason Schreck after quarterback Ryan Finley completed a pass to him. Schreck had an open field in front him, but Thornhill's quick hit limited him to gaining just 2 yards. A couple of plays later, Watts kept H-back Quinton Flowers to just 2 yards after catching a pass from Finley.
"He's been having such a great camp, getting his hands on a lot of balls, so I know he was excited to get out there," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "And I was excited to see Herb Miller and Rashad Fenton, all those guys. Felt like all of them played hard."
Herb Miller was the surprise rookie performer of the night for the defense. The undrafted free agent out of Florida Atlantic was the second-string outside cornerback opposite of 2018 practice squad player D'Montre Wade. Miller bounced between the second and third teams in training camp, but was on the field in the opening drive when Spagnuolo began rotating substitutes with starters.
Miller finished the half with an interception on a Hail Mary throw by backup Cincinnati quarterback Jeff Driskel. Blockers formed a lane for him along the right sideline, but Miller's interception didn't quite go the distance for a pick-six. Instead, he returned it 67 yards, before exiting the field for halftime.