KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs don’t start the season against an AFC opponent very often, but the last matchup remains a memorable game in franchise lore.
Arrowhead Stadium hosted the second game of a Monday Night Football double header against San Diego Sept. 13, 2010. The game kicked off at 9:20 p.m. local time.
Jamaal Charles scored on a 56-yard touchdown run and quarterback Matt Cassel connected with tight end Tony Moeaki for a 2-yard touchdown catch in 21-14 Chiefs win.
But the highlight of the night belonged to rookie Dexter McCluster, who returned a Chargers punt for 94 yards on an electric touchdown romp.
To kickoff Red Friday and the 2016 season, here’s five quick things to know about Sunday’s game.
1. Does it matter if the Chiefs have Jamaal Charles Sunday?
It’s a ludicrous question at face value. No one can or should one argue the Chiefs would be just fine without Charles in the lineup.
Yet the Chiefs finished the regular season with 10 straight wins after Charles suffered his knee injury in week five against Chicago. The Chiefs are a salty 19-10 without Charles on the field since he entered the league in 2009.
Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West and Knile Davis demonstrated last year they can win without Charles if needed. It’s not necessarily easy, but it can be done.
Ware celebrated his coming of age party against San Diego last year with 96 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Chargers coach Mike McCoy remembers it well.
“I think there’s a lot of talented players and the great thing about the game is with a player like this you make the most of your opportunities,” McCoy said. “I think Andy (Reid) would say the same thing and a lot of coaches love it when you see players that when they get the opportunity they make the most of it.”
2. Trial by fire for the Chiefs secondary
The Chiefs should have a good grasp of their young secondary after facing Philip Rivers on Sunday. The Chiefs listed starters at corner have a combined 24 stars, and nickel back Steven Nelson has never started a game.
The biggest key to the secondary’s success may be the ability of Gaines to pick up where he left off before his knee injury last season.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said Gaines feels confident and continues improving each week.
“I think he’s feeling more comfortable as a player and his reaction time is improving,” Sutton said. “That’s where I think he’s really making some strides and he’s feeling good about it.”
3. Playing without Houston not new
The Chiefs also have experience playing without linebacker Justin Houston. The Pro Bowler missed the final five games of the regular season a year ago, and the Chiefs won all five.
Derrick Johnson has faith that Sutton can create schemes to help the Chiefs defense get to the quarterback.
“I think we have enough pieces around our defense to get pressure,” Johnson said about the absence of Houston. “And we put that pressure on ourself knowing we got to pick up the slack.”
Rivers should offer a test of that ability. He stands 13-8 all time with an average of 246 yards passing per game against the Chiefs in his career.
“I think we got enough high-character guys, high-levels guys on the defense that we can get the job done,” Johnson said.
4. Chargers revamped offense
Last year the Chiefs dominated the Chargers 43-6 combined in two victories, holding the Bolts to just 241 yards of offense per game.
It should be a different story Sunday. San Diego has the band back together, with a rejuvenated Philip Rivers, a healthy Keenan Allen at wide receiver and Ken Whisenhunt back at offensive coordinator.
The Chargers have put their nightmarish 2015 season behind them, Rivers said.
“We’re so far removed from it that I can’t describe it and do it justice of just how difficult it was,” Rivers said. “These aren’t excuses, but between injuries we dealt with and the ways we lost were difficult.”
Free agent wide receiver Travis Benjamin adds depth to the wide receiving corps. The Chargers still have Chiefs’ nemesis Antonio Gates at tight end, as well as former Chief Sean McGrath.
5. The national anthem
The NFL kicks off the new season with a discussion of social justice and the national anthem dominating headlines around the league.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kickstarted the debate initially with his choice to sit during the national anthem before a game two weeks ago. Last week Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem at the team’s final preseason game.
Now other players are choosing to support Kaepernick. Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall took to a knee during the national anthem before his team’s Thursday night opener against Carolina.
Reid said he had not addressed the national anthem issue with his team.
“We’re very fortunate to be in a great country, and that’s all part of it,” he said. “But I haven’t really addressed it and I haven’t worried about that.”
Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters recognized Kaepernick for standing up for a cause in which he believes.
“He spoke up about something that he felt he needed speak up about,” Peters said, “and I salute him for that. I’m going to back him up.”
There’s no indication any Chiefs players plan to protest during Sunday’s pregame ceremony.