They did keep score.
The Chiefs did finish out their preseason with a 33-32 win against the Browns.
But if we needed any further reason that the outcomes of these things are irrelevant (which we did not), let me share this: Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Nick Bolton were among the Chiefs’ healthy scratches at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
But, hey, they played anyway. And there are some things to learn from what we saw Saturday, even if the final score isn’t one of them.
Here are five observations from immediately after the game:
1. The Justyn Ross dilemma
A good problem to have. Let’s start with that.
The receivers on the roster bubble continue to perform like guys worthy of being on NFL opening rosters. While the Justyn Ross hype has been blown out of control, he does continue to flash here and there on game days. So too does Ihmir Smith-Marsette, by the way.
Ross high-pointed a three-yard touchdown pass Saturday, his second score of the preseason. Ross does offer the Chiefs a dimension they don’t have elsewhere in the wide receiver room — capable of winning a jump ball.
Is that alone enough for a roster spot? Would the Chiefs commit to using him in that role?
Because nothing has changed from what I wrote earlier this week ahead of Tuesday’s cutdown day.
The Chiefs have enough talent to keep seven receivers.
They do not have enough regular-season snaps to justify keeping seven.
Their internal history shows they rarely use a sixth wide receiver, at least not on offense. On the six occasions in which Andy Reid teams kept six receivers, those six combined for seven catches — for their entire seasons.
Which makes keeping a seventh receiver feel like a real stretch. It’s basically stashing a guy for development purposes, in a league in which you so often need all 53 to contribute.
I still think a trade is the best solution here, assuming the Chiefs can find a partner — and I’m not saying Ross has to be the guy moving the other way. The Chiefs have flexibility.
2. The Rashee Rice dilemma
A not-so-good problem to have.
Rashee Rice has not yet appeared in an NFL regular season game, and he already has a case of the drops.
Actually, he had it before he arrived. Rice had a drop rate of 7.8% in college. If you read scouting reports before the draft, it was listed on almost every one.
And now he’s dropped four passes in the last two preseason games, including three on Saturday. A week ago, he told me “clearing a play,” was the most difficult challenge of the transition to the NFL.
He’s got a few more to clear, and one in particular might be pretty difficult to erase from memory. Rice dropped a deep pass in which he had nothing but green grass in front of him.
Look, it is certainly a problem. But it’s not the end-all, be-all for a wide receiver. In actuality, it’s not even all that indicative of total success for a receiver.
You know who else has a problem with drops? A.J. Brown. Ja’Marr Chase. Jaylen Waddle.
Not ideal. But not prohibitive.
3. The quarterback battle
You wouldn’t think a Chiefs preseason game absent Patrick Mahomes would have much intrigue at the quarterback spot.
Oh, to the contrary.
The Chiefs have turned the No. 2 job into a battle between veteran Blaine Gabbert and Shane Buechele, with Buechele leading the most recent leg of the race.
That may not be the case for much longer. Buechele got the start, and there were some anxious moments, to put it kindly.
He did operate only one drive with the starting offensive line, but Buechele threw a lot of passes into traffic that his intended receivers probably wish he hadn’t. Two ended up intercepted.
A week after his perfect outing in Arizona, Buechele was just 8 of 17 for 89 yards, one touchdown and the two picks.
Gabbert, on the other hand, performed well for the second straight week — 10 of 18 for 169 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception.
Gabbert won the day.
Did he win the backup job?
4. The rookie on the rise
If we can track back to the draft for a moment, the Chiefs’ pick that prompted more confusion than any other was fourth-rounder Chamarri Conner, considered a reach based on the national scouting reports.
But the Chiefs started just one rookie in their preseason finale — you guessed it, Connor.
He’s playing nickel cornerback, bumping Trent McDuffie outside and Jaylen Watson to the bench. Oh, and he’s still getting some snaps at safety too.
A few days ago, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said he couldn’t recall putting so much on the plate of a rookie before he’s played his first NFL game.
It’s clear Conner will have a role this season, even if that role is subject to change.
5. The kickoff returns
It all looked bad early Saturday for the Chiefs, but there’s one area that’s looked bad all preseason.
The kickoff return.
You know, the play the NFL is all but begging teams to eliminate by offering them a chance to get the ball at the 25-yard line with a fair catch from anywhere on the field.
The Chiefs returned nine kickoffs in the preseason. Their average starting position: the 17-yard line.
Six of the nine didn’t even make it past the 16.
Their best? They reached the 31-yard line. All of a six-yard gain compared to the fair catch.
This is a small sample size that says what the large sample size says: It is just not a profitable endeavor to continue to return kickoffs. I’ve said it before but will say it again: The preseason is about evaluation, and if the Chiefs are truly evaluating the kickoff returns, it all points to one conclusion.
A fair catch.