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USA TODAY

For the first time since Super Bowl LIV, NFL players will take the field Thursday night to face someone other than their own teammates.

With preseason games canceled and training camps shortened amid the coronavirus pandemic, teams have slowly worked their way back into form for the season. But now, with the league having returned just five positive player tests for COVID-19 since Aug. 11, the NFL is prepared to make its full return.

The Kansas City Chiefs will kick things off by defending their first Super Bowl title in 50 years when they host the Houston Texans, whom they defeated 51-31 in the divisional round of last season’s playoffs after rallying from down 24-0 in the first half. Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson became the league’s two highest-paid players with massive extensions this offseason, and the duo will be looking to add more signature performances to the burgeoning rivalry.

USA TODAY Sports will be covering the game from before kickoff through the final whistle and beyond. Reporter/columnist Mike Jones is on the scene in Kansas City, and NFL editor Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz will be adding additional notes and analysis as well. Check back often for all the latest.

Second quarter

CHIEFS 14, TEXANS 7 — It took 16 plays, but the Chiefs went 91 yards to take the lead on Sammy Watkins’ 2-yard screen. It’s worth tracking how the Texans’ conditioning holds up after this altered offseason, as Kansas City has already run 35 offensive plays in the first half — and will get the ball first in the second.

Chiefs 7, Texans 7 — Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s emergence didn’t take long. The first-round running back out of LSU has nine carries for 65 yards midway through the second quarter. While the 5-7, 207-pound back is clearly adding something of a spark to Kansas City’s offense, the passing attack still hasn’t fully taken off, as Mahomes is averaging just 5.7 yards per pass and nearly had one throw intercepted.

And a cool moment after a Texans scramble, as Deshaun Watson takes a place on the bench … next to Patrick Mahomes. 

CHIEFS 7, TEXANS 7 — Can’t keep the Chiefs down for long, as the Texans well know from last year. Patrick Mahomes caps an 11-play, 75-yard drive by finding Travis Kelce for the easy score. Kelce has already been targeted four times so far this game.

First quarter

TEXANS 7, CHIEFS 0 —  New addition David Johnson didn’t take long to make his presence felt with the Houston Texans, scoring on a 19-yard run for the first score of the game.

Because of his recent injury history, Johnson to a degree has become a forgotten man. But if healthy, he’s an extremely versatile weapon (see 2016 when he rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns and recorded 80 catches for 879 yards and four TDs).

If Johnson can stay healthy, Houston has quite an impactful tandem of Johnson backs (David and Duke).

Early in the game, they at times shared the backfield together, which gives Houston’s offense greater unpredictability.

On his scoring play, David Johnson certainly impressed. He showed great patience initially, waiting for things to open in front of him while making two defenders miss. Then he spotted his opening along the right edge and was off to the races. The play gave Houston a 7-0 lead with 4:54 left in the first quarter.

Texans 0, Chiefs 0 — Looked for a second there as Patrick Mahomes was picking up right where he left off in Super Bowl LIV, as a 36-yard strike to Demarcus Robinson was poised to be the first score of the season – until officials ruled it an incompletion. Impressive sack by promising Texans pass rusher Jacob Martin against Chiefs standout right tackle Mitchell Schwartz to force third-and-long and the eventual punt.

The first series of the NFL season is a three-and-out by the Texans. OK, we’ll get to the fireworks eventually … we think.

Pregame

The Texans returned to the locker room for both the national anthem and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” while Chiefs DE Alex Okafor was the only Kansas City player to kneel during the anthem. 

One figure who’s clearly taking coronavirus prevention seriously: Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

It should quickly become clear how different this game will be from a typical outing. Arrowhead Stadium will only have approximately 14,000 fans on hand, NBC reported prior to the game.

Chiefs player to watch: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire. After incumbent starter Damien Williams opted out of the season, the 5-7, 207-pound first-round pick is trending toward being the Chiefs’ primary option out of the backfield, GM Brett Veach said. He might share carries with Darrel Williams tonight, but Edwards-Helaire should also figure prominently in the passing game, as he caught 55 passes last year for LSU.

Texans player to watch: WR Brandin Cooks. Sliding into the passing game along with Randall Cobb after DeAndre Hopkins was traded, Cooks is active despite being hampered by a quad injury. How effective can he be in helping Houston keep pace with Kansas City?

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ NFL coverage on Twitter @usatodaynfl.

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