KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The NFL launched its season here Thursday night at the intersection of a persisting global pandemic and the nation’s ongoing social justice reckoning. The country’s most popular and prosperous sports league trudged onward, as the Kansas City Chiefs welcomed some fans and began their defense of last season’s Super Bowl title with a victory over the Houston Texans.

The league’s season-opening game kicked off with the stands partially filled at Arrowhead Stadium and strict protocols in effect for the novel coronavirus. The Chiefs, one of a handful of NFL teams permitting fans in attendance at the outset of the season, had an announced crowd of 15,895.

“It’s always a blessing to play in front of our fans,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “They’re a big part of the game.”

Fans sat mostly in small groups throughout the stadium, even in the furthest reaches of the upper deck, with considerable distance between those groups. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in attendance and watched the game from a suite as the Chiefs cruised to a 34-20 win. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw three touchdown passes and rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire ran for 138 yards and a touchdown in an impressive NFL debut.

Texans players were not on the field while the national anthem was played before the game, marking the latest in a series of protests by athletes across professional sports to bring attention to racial inequality and police misconduct. The Texans also were not on the field earlier for the playing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Black national anthem.

The Chiefs were on the field for both. They left the field in between, returning just as team owner Clark Hunt finished addressing the fans as part of a celebration of last season’s Super Bowl triumph. With the Chiefs on their sideline for the “Star Spangled Banner,” defensive end Alex Okafor took a knee. The two teams then took the field together in a display of solidarity as fans were asked to observe a moment for racial equality. Many appeared to comply. Some boos could be heard.

“We wanted to show unity and we wanted to show that we’re going to come together and keep fighting the good fight,” Mahomes said.

The NFL’s 101st season comes with considerable angst and uncertainty, and the fact that it began as scheduled belied earlier skepticism about the prospects for a full and on-time season. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told CNN in June that “football may not happen this year” unless players were to be placed in a bubble environment, isolated from others.

When teams such as the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals suffered outbreaks early in the delayed Major League Baseball season, doubts increased about the viability of a non-bubble NFL season. The NFL’s model, with teams playing in their home cities and own stadiums, is similar to MLB’s and unlike that of the NBA, which is operating with teams gathered at a single site in a bubble in Kissimmee, Fla.

But it has been so far, so good for the NFL, which had what it called a virtual bubble at each team’s training camp. Players and coaches went home each night but they, along with certain team staffers, were tested daily. Some teams took it a step further and offered hotel stays on a voluntary basis. There were few positive tests and no outbreaks during training camp. In the most recent NFL testing results, there was only one new confirmed positive test among players between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5.

The risks now increase with teams traveling to play games and interacting with each other on the field. There was no preseason to test the game-day protocols. For the NFL, fingers are crossed. Texans and Chiefs players underwent their last set of pregame coronavirus tests Wednesday morning. The protocols allowed for a follow-up point-of-care test Thursday, provided the result was available two hours before kickoff, for any inconclusive result Wednesday.

The Texans flew Wednesday from Houston to Kansas City, undergoing their day-before testing before traveling. They arrived around 4 p.m. Central time Wednesday. The Texans had several floors of their Kansas City hotel to themselves and didn’t so much as share elevators with other hotel guests. They utilized additional team buses to maintain distancing onboard.

“Everything was really smooth,” one Texans official said before kickoff.

Masks were mandatory Thursday for coaches but optional for players on the sideline; mask-wearing currently is required of players on the sideline only for games in Buffalo and San Francisco. Chiefs Coach Andy Reid wore a face shield and ended up having major visibility issues.

“That was brutal,” Reid said. “I didn’t do very good with that thing. But, listen, it will be better the next time. ... It was a bit of a mess but we’ll get it fixed.”

The first seven rows of seating closest to the field Thursday were covered by tarps, a league-wide directive. The tarps had sponsor logos and team messaging. Chiefs cheerleaders, barred from being on the sideline by the NFL’s protocols, performed on a pavilion in the stadium’s upper deck.

Some fans tailgated, as was permitted, in the sparsely populated parking lots before the game, even on a cool and rainy afternoon. Fans sat beneath Chiefs tents and flew Chiefs flags. They entered the stadium through designated entrances and were subject to protocols that included mask-wearing and distancing measures.

“With the social distancing and then our fans wearing their masks and doing the things they’re supposed to do, I just keep encouraging them to keep on, man, because we want to keep you in the stands,” Reid said. “And if we’re going to do that, you’ve got to do the right things. So let’s keep rolling with that.”

The signs of the NFL’s recent approach to social justice issues also were apparent Thursday. The messages “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” were written along the back lines of the end zones.

Mahomes and Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson were among the prominent NFL players who appeared in a video in early June following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis in May. That video led the NFL to release a video in which Goodell said the league was “wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier” and now encourages peaceful protests. Goodell and the league continued to express support when some NFL teams canceled practices during training camp last month in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis.

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September 10, 2020 at 11:29 PM EDT
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Chiefs defeat Texans, 34-20

By Des Bieler

Kansas City got a field goal with 33 seconds to play to complete the scoring Thursday night and take a 34-20 win over visiting Houston. Perhaps the only unhappy aspect to the Chiefs’ victory was that rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was repeatedly stuffed at the goal line for the second time in the game.

On his other runs, Edwards-Helaire gave Kansas City no reason to regret spending a first-round pick on him, as the LSU product ran for 138 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Meanwhile, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was his usual superstar self, completing 24 of 32 passes for 211 yards, three touchdowns and a 123.3 rating.

Kansas City did not need many big plays in the game, particularly as its defense spent most of the game harassing Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson into a very quiet performance until the late stages. The Chiefs began the game celebrating their Super Bowl win, and they finished it by taking an impressive step toward what they hope is a successful title defense.

September 10, 2020 at 11:16 PM EDT
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Texans cut lead with another late touchdown

By Des Bieler

It is likely too little, too late, but Houston has gotten back into the game with another late touchdown. After falling behind earlier in the second half by 24 points, the Texans cut their deficit to 11 on a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Deshaun Watson with less than three minutes to play.

Houston then tried an onside kick, but Kansas City was able to grab the ball and return it to Houston’s side of the field. Watson has at least made his personal stat line look much more respectable, and could possibly carry some good feeling about that into Week 2. (Chiefs 31, Texans 20, 2:38 left in the fourth quarter)

September 10, 2020 at 11:05 PM EDT
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Texans finally score again, still down by 18

By Des Bieler

Houston finally got on the board again after scoring the game’s first touchdown. Midway through the fourth quarter, Deshaun Watson found tight end Jordan Akins on a 19-yard pass up the seam that cut the Texans’ deficit to 18 points after they failed to convert an ensuing two-point attempt.

The Texans were fortunate on the touchdown that they weren’t flagged for what appeared to be a false start by their offensive line. Watson has now completed 16 of 26 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown and one interception, with an 80.8 rating. (Chiefs 31, Texans 13, 7:21 left in the fourth quarter)

September 10, 2020 at 10:51 PM EDT
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Chiefs take advantage of turnover, push lead to 24 points

By Des Bieler

After the Chiefs got the ball at the Texans’ 17-yard line thanks to an interception return, it was just a question of whether Kansas City’s near-unstoppable offense would cash it in for a touchdown or merely settle for a field goal. It got interesting, as the Chiefs eventually took a timeout to mull a 4th-and-inches play at the Texans’ 8-yard line before running a pass play that resulted in a Houston interception.

A defensive pass interference call negated the pick and gave the ball to the Chiefs at the 1, but their first-round pick, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, was stuffed on a pair of runs that lost two yards. Patrick Mahomes then made sure that was the end of his team’s offensive futility, finding wide receiver Tyreek Hill on a crossing pattern for a three-yard score. Hill had previously been having a fairly quiet game by his standards, but that’s hardly been an issue for a Kansas City attack loaded with weapons. (Chiefs 31, Texans 7, 11:25 left in the fourth quarter)

September 10, 2020 at 10:42 PM EDT
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Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a difference-maker for Chiefs

By Mark Maske

It has taken rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire only one game to establish that he’s a difference-maker for the Kansas City offense. He’s over 100 yards rushing in an impressive NFL debut, and the Chiefs are rolling toward what appears very likely to be a season-opening triumph over the Texans.

September 10, 2020 at 10:40 PM EDT
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Texans cough up game’s first turnover as hole deepens

By Des Bieler

After scoring the game’s first touchdown in the first quarter, Houston failed to add any more points through quarters two and three, and things went from bad to worse early in the fourth. On the second play of the quarter, the Texans’ Deshaun Watson threw an interception that was returned by the Chiefs’ L’Jarius Sneed to Houston’s 17-yard line.

Already down 24-7, the Texans appear set to give up more points. It was the biggest mistake of the game thus far for Houston’s gifted quarterback, but he already had been largely been held in check by Kansas City’s pass rush.

September 10, 2020 at 10:17 PM EDT
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Chiefs stretch lead to 24-7 early in the 2nd half

By Des Bieler

The Chiefs picked up right where they left off before halftime, getting the ball to start the second half and driving relentlessly for a score, this one a 27-yard touchdown run by rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Kansas City started at its own 25-yard line and continued to feature a short-passing attack with Patrick Mahomes.

The 2018 NFL MVP completed all four of his passes on the drive for 40 yards, as the Chiefs overcame their first penalty, a five-yard flag for a false start. Houston and Deshaun Watson are already in major trouble at Arrowhead Stadium, and they desperately need some kind of score soon.

September 10, 2020 at 9:59 PM EDT
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Chiefs’ title defense is off to a good start

By Mark Maske

It was a good first half for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs as they begin a defense of their Super Bowl title under challenging conditions.

Mahomes threw two touchdown passes in a 16-for-21, 133-yard passing half. He had a first-half passer rating of 123.7 and he is outdueling Deshaun Watson so far. The Chiefs lead the Texans, 17-7.

Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is, as advertised, a major addition to the Kansas City offense. The LSU product ran for 64 yards in his first NFL half. Tight end Travis Kelce had six catches and wide receiver Sammy Watkins had five. Speedster Tyreek Hill has not been a factor in the offense yet.

The Texans handed Chiefs points at the end of the half with a missed 51-yard field goal attempt, giving Kansas City good field position that led to a field goal.

September 10, 2020 at 9:58 PM EDT
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Chiefs get field goal to take 17-7 lead into the half

By Des Bieler

Houston’s Kai’mi Fairbairn missed a 51-yard field goal attempt that allowed Kansas City just enough time to set up kicker Harrison Butker for a chip shot. Butker’s 29-yarder gave his team a 17-7 lead as time ran out in the first half.

Fairbairn’s miss handed the ball to the Chiefs at their own 41 with just 22 seconds left. Patrick Mahomes made the most of the situation, completing two passes for 28 yards, and Kansas City also benefited from a 15-yard penalty on the Texans for a horse-collar tackle.

For the first half, Mahomes was impressively efficient, completing 16 of 21 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Houston counterpart Deshaun Watson completed nine of 16 passes for 104 yards, while running back David Johnson notched his team’s lone score with a 19-yard jaunt in the first quarter. The Chiefs dominated the time of possession over the first two quarters, 19:11-10:49.

September 10, 2020 at 9:36 PM EDT
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Chiefs take the lead with methodical drive

By Des Bieler

The Kansas City Chiefs are renowned for their big-play offense, but they used a methodical, lengthy drive to take their first lead over the Texans at 14-7. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins caught a two-yard touchdown pass two plays after a 10-yard touchdown he scored was overturned.

That finished off a 16-play, 91-yard drive that took over nine minutes off the clock. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs’ first-round pick this year, had five carries for 40 yards on the drive, as none of Kansas City’s 16 plays went for more than nine yards. (Chiefs 14, Texans 7, 2:26 left in the second quarter)

September 10, 2020 at 9:15 PM EDT
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Chiefs tie the game with a Travis Kelce touchdown catch

By Des Bieler

The last time these teams played, Kansas City came back from a 24-0 deficit, so falling behind 7-0 to Houston was not about to faze the Super Bowl champions. Sure enough, the Chiefs took the kickoff after the Texans scored and proceeded to march to the end zone, with a six-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to trusted tight end Travis Kelce ending an 11-play, 75-yard drive.

One play before that, Chiefs wide receiver DeMarcus Robinson had dropped a pass in the end zone, making him zero-for-two on would-be touchdown catches thus far in the game. That was the only incomplete pass for Mahomes on the drive, against six completions for 53 yards. Kansas City also converted a fourth-and-one play on the drive. (Texans 7, Chiefs 7, 14:17 second quarter)

September 10, 2020 at 9:08 PM EDT
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First quarter analysis: Chiefs just can’t play from ahead against Texans

By Mark Maske

The Chiefs just can’t seem to play from ahead when they face the Texans, can they? They had to overcome a huge deficit to beat Houston during last season’s AFC playoffs en route to their Super Bowl title. They trail the Texans, 7-0, after the opening quarter in this NFL season-opening game.

Both offenses are functioning well. The Chiefs had an early touchdown overturned on a replay reversal when Demarcus Robinson was ruled not to have maintained possession of the football on a would-be scoring catch. Houston responded with a touchdown run by David Johnson in his first game with the Texans after being obtained in that widely panned offseason trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. The Chiefs are now driving toward a possible tying touchdown as the second quarter opens.

September 10, 2020 at 9:03 PM EDT
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Houston takes early lead on David Johnson’s touchdown run

By Des Bieler

Score one for the Texans, and for a widely criticized trade by Bill O’Brien. Houston’s head coach/general manager watched David Johnson, the veteran running back he received while trading star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, put the NFL season’s first points on the board with a 19-yard touchdown run.

The 28-year-old Johnson, whose struggles late last season with the Cardinals raised questions about whether he was past his prime, looked nimble and fast on that run, as he had on a pair of previous plays. The touchdown capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive. (Texans 7, Chiefs 0, 5:01, first quarter)

September 10, 2020 at 8:49 PM EDT
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Texans, Chiefs trade punts after touchdown is overturned

By Des Bieler

The Texans got the ball first but after they went three-and-out with a couple of miscues, the Chiefs almost made them pay very quickly. On the sixth play of Kansas City’s drive, Patrick Mahomes appeared to hit wide receiver DeMarcus Robinson with a 36-yard touchdown pass, but the play was overruled after officials ruled that Robinson did not maintain possession as he went to the turf in the end zone.

Mahomes was sacked on the next play, and the Chiefs punted into the end zone. On the second play of Houston’s opening drive, wide receiver Will Fuller dropped what would have been a first-down reception, then offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil was called for a false start.