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Lions vs. Chiefs review: Detroit shocks defending Super Bowl champs at Arrowhead

The Detroit Lions defeated the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, 21-20, in Thursday night's season opener.

The game was close throughout, with neither team able to go up by more than one score, although the Chiefs looked poised to do that on their second possession of the second half until Lions rookie Brian Branch's 50-yard interception return for a touchdown leveled the score at 14-14.

Harrison Butker made 35 and 39-yard field goal attempts to push Kansas City into a 20-14 lead, before David Montgomery capped a 75-yard drive with a barrelling run up the gut and Riley Patterson kicked the extra point to put the Lions back ahead.

No late Mahomes magic for reigning champs

Detroit's defense then stopped Patrick Mahomes from conjuring a reply on two further Kansas City possessions, with the Lions able to seal their first triumph over the Chiefs since 2011 by running down the clock after the two-minute warning.

Jared Goff outplayed Mahomes as he completed 22 of 35 passes for 253 yards, including a nine-yard TD connection with Amon-Ra St. Brown to conclude a 14-play, 91-yard drive in the first quarter.

Last season's Super Bowl MVP completed just 21 of 39 pass attempts for 226 yards, connecting with rookie wideout Rashee Rice and tight end Blake Bell for scores and contributing a team-high 45 rushing yards.

Resilient Lions look the real thing

In a post-game Instagram Live video recorded in the visiting locker room, Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson - who played for the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles last year - insisted that this was not the same Lions team that has long been thought of as an NFL doormat.

"It ain't the same Detroit. This is the real thing, this (is) the real thing," Gardner-Johnson repeatedly yelled.

Third-year head coach Dan Campbell was more measured in his response to the win, which sees Detroit open the regular season 1-0 for the first time since 2017.

"I didn't learn anything, I got verification on what I already knew, and this is a resilient team," Campbell told reporters.

"It already was a resilient team and we added pieces to that resilient team, so we're built to handle some stuff and we did that today against a very good opponent."

Chiefs missed their stars

For the Chiefs, who had not suffered a home defeat at Arrowhead Stadium since a 24-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills on October 16th last year, this was a stark reminder of how unrelenting the NFL can be.

Without All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones - who watched the game from a suite amid a prolonged contract dispute - and injured star tight end Travis Kelce, the Chiefs were unable to chase Goff out of the pocket or sustain drives of their own.

Andy Reid's offense did not help themselves at times with a number of costly penalties and drops - one leading directly to Branch's pick six.

Toney retains the trust of his QB

That mistake was on Kadarius Toney, who joined the Chiefs in a midseason trade from the New York Giants last year and had a night to forget.

He struggled with three drops in total and made just one catch on five targets.

Toney's third drop was perhaps the biggest difference-maker to the outcome of the game, as it came just before the two-minute warning with Kansas City down by one and looking to get into field-goal range.

The 24-year-old, who scored a touchdown in the Chiefs' Championship victory last February, missed all of training camp after having surgery for a torn meniscus and only recently returned to practice.

Mahomes later declared he still has trust in the wide receiver.

"He missed a lot of training camp, and obviously he wanted to play and fought (during) rehab hard so he could play and stuff's not always going to go your way," Mahomes said.

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