KANSAS CITY -- Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt started his NFL career losing a fumble on the team's first offensive play of the season and nearly put the Chiefs into an insurmountable hole against New England in the season opener. But the rookie rallied, putting on a record-breaking performance.
Hunt picked up 148 yards rushing along with 98 yards receiving while scoring three touchdowns in Kansas City's marquee 42-27 win. His 246 yards from scrimmage stand as most yards from scrimmage in a rookie's first career game since at least 1950. Anquan Boldin and Billy Sims shared that record with 217 yards.
Only three players in history have more than 150 yards with three touchdowns. Sims pulled off the achievement in 1980. Marshall Faulk joined his company in 1994.
Hunt would never have had a chance at history if Chiefs head coach Andy Reid did not take a chance on Hunt. When the Chiefs regained possession after stopping the Patriots on fourth-and-1 from the 10-yard line, Reid gave the ball right back to Hunt.
"He was upset, he was really upset," Reid said. "He came to the sideline angry, but we told him to calm down and to carry the ball the next play, and he carried it the next play and did a nice job."
That faith from his head coach restored Hunt's faith in himself.
"It showed me that they believed in me, they weren't going to give up on me and just put me on the bench," Hunt said.
Quarterback Alex Smith credited Hunt with keeping the Chiefs in the game.
"There was a good chunk there where we were going as Kareem was going," Smith said. "He was really a big chunk of the offense tonight."
Linebacker Derrick Johnson praised the rookie running back's attitude following the fumble and getting right back in the game.
"A lot of people would have duck their head or put their tail under their legs," Johnson said. "He's pretty good, I'll tell you that."
--The Kansas City defense struggled last season, relying on a bend-but-don't-break philosophy that yielded a lot of yards and focused on holding teams to field goals in the red zone. The Chiefs ranked 24th in the league in yards allowed, 26th against the run and 28th in sacks.
One big cause for that poor performance stemmed from the loss of linebacker Justin Houston. Houston played just five games last season with a knee injury that affected his production.
This year, Houston says he feels healthy for the first time since the 2014 season when he piled up 22 sacks. He set aside any questions about his health and endurance, playing all 81 defensive snaps.
"I thought Justin really played well, both in the pass game and the run game," Reid said. "I thought he tackled well."
Houston picked up two sacks of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady along with four quarterback hits. Houston said pressure does not rattle Brady.
"But he is better on the ground than he is standing up for us as a defense," Houston said. "Any time you can put him on the ground and keep him from throwing the ball will help the defense out a whole lot."
REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Hard to find fault with Alex Smith's 368 passing yards, four touchdowns and 148.6 passer rating while completing 28 of 35 passes. Arguably the best game of Smith's career. Most important for the Chiefs, Smith found the touch and timing in the deep passing game missing much of last season. A 75-yard touchdown strike to Tyreek Hill kept the Chiefs in the game and the 78-yard connection to rookie Kareem Hunt put the team ahead for good.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus - The fumble by Hunt on the team's opening offensive play proved the only blemish on a near-perfect night for the running game. The rookie Hunt picked up 148 yards and averaged an eye-opening 8.7 yards per carry. Backup Charcandrick West added a 21-yard touchdown run on his only carry.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Linebacker Justin Houston picked up two sacks and harassed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady much of the night as the team yielded 267 yards passing. It got the job done, but the Patriots moved the ball effectively through the air at times. The biggest struggles for the Chiefs came on the right side of the defense where cornerback Terrance Mitchell took over for injured Steven Nelson. Brady finished 11-of-21 for 196 yards targeting Mitchell's side. He was 5-of-15 passing for 71 yards targeting the rest of the field.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Chiefs surrendered 124 yards and three touchdowns, but the news wasn't all bad. They held New England to just 3.5 yards per carry and gave up no running play longer than 16 yards. Big chunks of yardage in the running game hurt the Chiefs a year ago. The defense also came up with several timely stops, denying the Patriots in short-yardage situations.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Kicker Cairo Santos appears healthy following a groin injury that limited him much of the preseason. Punter Dustin Colquitt netted a 42.3-yard average, but gave the Patriots a few short fields. Penalties and mental mistakes, however, nearly doomed the special teams. Tyreek Hill nearly lost a fumble on a punt return and called for a fair catch on a short kick fielded by De'Anthony Thomas. The normally well-disciplined squad also committed three penalties for 40 yards.
COACHING: A-minus -- Head coach Andy Reid devised a nearly perfect game plan and the Chiefs largely executed it well. Too many penalties - 15 flags for 139 yards - almost doomed Kansas City along with other mental miscues, but those are mistakes Reid believes he can fix. This game was a chess game between Reid and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, and Reid earned checkmate.