It was 188 days ago that the Kansas City Chiefs fell just shy of their ultimate goal in Super Bowl LV, bringing the winningest season in franchise history to a disappointing end.
It was only the Chiefs' third loss in their last 28 games, and while the 2020 campaign culminated in a second-consecutive Lamar Hunt Trophy, this team has moved beyond satisfaction with anything less than a world championship.
Well, after months of patiently waiting – not to mention numerous offseason moves meant to bolster an already championship-caliber roster – the Chiefs are set to take the field on Saturday as they begin their pursuit of reclaiming the Lombardi Trophy.
It may just be a preseason game, but the contest – which will take place against the San Francisco 49ers at 7:30 p.m. CT – represents the first opportunity for the Chiefs to gauge their preparation for the upcoming season against an actual opponent.
"I think [it's about] just going out there and executing, [getting] in and out of the huddle, making the right calls, getting the ball out of my hand and making some plays happen," said quarterback Patrick Mahomes. "You always like to score, but at the end of the day, I think if the communication - the procedures in and out of the huddle - with so many new guys, especially on the offensive line, [is good], that would be a win for me just throughout this first game."
Mahomes and the starters are scheduled to play through the first quarter, according to Head Coach Andy Reid. The second-team unit will then play the second quarter, the third team will hit the field in the third quarter and the fourth team will close out the game in the fourth quarter.
The handful of drives that feature the mainstays on the roster will receive the bulk of the attention nationally – particularly if Mahomes finds one of his All-Pro playmakers in Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill for a deep touchdown – but the latter portion of the game is truthfully just as important when it comes to evaluating who will make this team.
Ninety players currently make up the Chiefs' roster, but that figure will need to be cut down to just 53 players by Aug. 31. The process of getting to that number includes two smaller cut down dates (Aug. 17 and Aug. 24) that will require teams to release five players by each checkpoint before the final cutdown at the end of the month.
The point is, for players on the roster bubble, Saturday's game is their opportunity to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff. Numerous players have made a name for themselves in Kansas City during the preseason over the last several years, from offensive lineman Andrew Wylie in 2017 to tailback Darrel Williams, linebacker Ben Niemann and wide receiver Byron Pringle in 2018. There's precedent for players to emerge during this time of year and to establish themselves as a member of the future moving forward, and now it's simply a matter of finding out who those players are this time around.
The entirety of the offseason workout program - which began way back in May – has prepared the Chiefs' youngest players for this very moment, and now it's finally their chance to shine on the field as professional football players.
"[My message is for them to] play as hard as they can. There's no pressure at all. This is the same game you've been playing since you were five years old," said safety Tyrann Mathieu. "Just go out there, have fun, understand your responsibilities and let loose. Let the world know who you are."
Catch the Chiefs and 49ers on KSHB 41 at 7:30 p.m. CT on Saturday night.