KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was supposed to be a prime-time showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, division leaders each led by two of the most talented and exciting quarterbacks in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers lived up to the billing.
Patrick Mahomes never got the chance.
Rodgers threw for 305 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to Aaron Jones on a big night for the Green Bay running back, and the Packers held off fill-in quarterback Matt Moore and the rest of the banged-up Chiefs for a 31-24 victory Sunday night.
“I totally trust our quarterback,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said, “and I trust Aaron Jones as a receiver. He made some great plays all night long.”
Jones, who briefly left with a shoulder injury, had seven catches for 159 yards and added 67 on the ground — a big chunk of them in the closing minutes, when the Packers (7-1) sealed their first win at Arrowhead Stadium since Nov. 4, 2007.
“He’s very talented,” Rodgers said, “and I think this scheme is giving him the opportunity to do a lot more out of the backfield. You know, we’re splitting him out and throwing the ball to him. We kind of caught lightning in a bottle there a couple of times. Hit him on a slant-and-go for 50 and on a screen pass for 70 or whatever. He’s a talented guy. I’m very proud of him.”
The Chiefs (5-3) hoped Mahomes could make a miraculous recovery 10 days after dislocating his kneecap in Denver in time to play. But after the league MVP was limited all week in practice, coach Andy Reid announced Friday his franchise quarterback would be inactive for the game.
Moore took the reins of the high-powered offense and fared well, throwing for 267 yards with two touchdowns and no picks in the ex-high school coach’s first start in more than two years.
It wasn’t the Rodgers-Mahomes matchup everyone wanted, but Moore and Co. made sure it was still an entertaining game between teams with Super Bowl aspirations.
It started like most outside the walls of 1 Arrowhead Drive expected, with Rodgers slicing up the defense and Green Bay marching for two quick touchdowns.
But after a shaky start by Moore, the journeyman quarterback found a groove. He led the Chiefs on an 89-yard drive that ended with a make-it-rain 29-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce, then found Mecole Hardman on a 30-yard pitch-and-catch to knot the game.
The Chiefs led 17-14 at halftime, raising some eyebrows across the league.
“Once we got in the flow,” Moore said, “we were kind of rolling for a little while.”
LaFleur made a couple adjustments, though, and Rodgers and Co. began to move the ball once more. They used a 15-play drive that soaked up more than half the third quarter to get a tying field goal, then got the ball back when LeSean McCoy fumbled on the very next play.
Five players later, Rodgers conjured up more of his magic.
With third down at the 3, he dropped back and was flushed from the pocket. He rolled to his right and threw a blind pass to the back corner of the end zone, where Damien Williams somehow took the ball away from Chiefs linebacker Ben Niemann while tapping both feet inbounds.
Rodgers was lying flat on his back, staring at the sky, as the official signaled touchdown.
“I truly believe he was throwing it away,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said.
The Chiefs answered with another long drive, and just when it appeared they had finally been stopped, the Packers’ Tramon Williams was flagged for illegal use of hands. That gave Kansas City the ball inside the 5, and Damien Williams scored on the next play to tie it again.
It took the Packers all of 56 seconds to score the eventual winner.
Rodgers again found Jones out of the backfield, and this time he found a lane through the entire Kansas City secondary. It was a foot race from there, and the speedy running back hop-skipped over the goal line to finish off the 67-yard touchdown reception.
“He’s an explosive weapon,” LaFleur said. “You don’t find too many running backs that can go out there and produce like that. You don’t see many running backs that you can put them on the outside and run a slant-and-go. I think he’s dynamic as a runner, a receiver, a pass protector.”
The Chiefs were forced to punt on the ensuing possession and never got the ball back.
“We played hard and aggressive,” Reid said, “but you know? When two good teams play each other, sometimes a turnover here or there can affect you and that’s a little bit what happened tonight. But we can all do better, starting with me and my guys.”