The Kansas City Chiefs made this clear a season ago: They pay attention to preseason game No. 3 when making final roster cuts.
Last August, for instance, running back Ronald Jones had an impressive preseason finale, and it led to him making the 53-man squad about a week later.
A few Chiefs, then, should potentially feel better about their prospects following KC’s 33-32 home victory against the Cleveland Browns on Saturday afternoon.
One such player is running back La’Mical Perine. He’s risen up the depth chart in recent weeks and delivered a top highlight late in the first half, breaking three tackles on a screen pass for a 20-yard touchdown.
— NFL (@NFL) August 26, 2023
Receiver Justyn Ross also continued his solid preseason, catching a jump-ball, 3-yard touchdown reception from Shane Buechele in the second quarter while perhaps moving himself closer to the Chiefs roster.
The Chiefs played this one conservatively with their top guys. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and linebacker Nick Bolton didn’t play, as the team opted to secure their health ahead of the season-opener on Thursday, Sept. 7 against the Detroit Lions.
There were still plenty of storylines to follow Saturday, including the continuing battle for the backup quarterback position.
Buechele received the first snaps and struggled at the beginnig, which included tossing a first-quarter pick-six interception to former Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill.
Much of the rest of Buechele’s evaluation needed proper context. The Chiefs elected to play their first-team offense and defense just one possession, while the Browns kept their starters on the field through the first quarter.
That left Buechele facing immense pressure on many of his first-half plays, as the Chiefs’ second-team offensive line struggled to hold up against the Browns’ top defenders.
Buechele bounced back to lead a touchdown drive — nine plays and 90 yards — in the second quarter before giving way to Blaine Gabbert. The final line for Buechele: 8 for 17 for 89 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, though one of those picks was a ball that deflected off the hands of receiver Cornell Powell.
Gabbert had a strong showing during his time. He went 10 for 18 for 169 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, though that turnover also bounded off the hands of an intended target (tight end Matt Bushman) before finding the arms of a defender.
The top target for Gabbert was another player who continued his outstanding preseason. Ihmir Smith-Marsette — after being rated by Pro Football Focus as the top NFL receiver in preseason Week 2 — flashed multiple times, contributing four catches for 101 yards while adding a third-quarter touchdown.
Decision day looms Tuesday. The Chiefs have to get their roster down to 53 by the NFL’s 3 p.m. Central deadline, with many questions remaining about how they’ll get to that number.
Will KC keep seven receivers for the first time in Reid’s 11-year tenure? What’s the status of undrafted rookie running back Deneric Prince, who was the talk of summer camp before fading some the past few weeks?
The Chiefs also have a judgment to make at tight end. Bushman, who had been battling for a roster spot while impressing with his pass-catching skills early in camp, made a costly mistake Saturday, letting a pass from Gabbert glance off his body before it was redirected to the Browns’ Caleb Biggers for a pick-six.
Bushman later caught a third-quarter touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Oladokun, who escaped the pocket before floating it to the tight end in the end zone.
Another note: Rashee Rice had a poor first half following a good showing last week. The rookie receiver dropped three passes Saturday, which included one on an all-out blitz against which Gabbert lofted the ball in Rice’s direction with no defender around; had Rice caught it, he likely would have scored a touchdown.
The Chiefs worked to get Rice involved again in the second half, as he caught two passes in the third quarter before subbing out. He finished with three catches for 29 yards on six targets.
KC’s backups rallied after Cleveland took a 22-3 first-quarter lead. Chiefs defensive tackle Phil Hoskins secured the win with 57 seconds left, blocking a 43-yard field-goal attempt by the Browns’ Cade York.