The more I watch Patrick Mahomes, the more I find myself saying, as I did Sunday night: Relax now. Fourteen starts. That’s all he’s done. Fourteen games.
Mostly, I’m okay doing that, okay with respecting the process. No quarterback is great after 14 games. But then I listen to what Andy Reid says about him, and then I watch fourth-and-nine with the undisputed lead of the AFC West on the line, and I think maybe it’s okay to speed up on the road to greatness for the kid. Because Mahomes was Favre-in-his-prime spectacular Sunday at Arrowhead in the 27-24 win over Baltimore. This kid can throw from every angle with accuracy—over the top, three-quarter, pure sidearm, and even no-look jobs. He’s got some Omar Vizquel in him. Fitting that, last month, when I talked to his dad, former big-league pitcher Pat Mahomes, he told me these weird and accurate throws are the same types younger Patrick would make playing shortstop as a Texas teen.
That play first. The fourth-and-nine play, down 24-17, with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter at the KC 40-yard line. I’ve seen it 25 times by now. I can recite it by heart. Mahomes, flushed from the pocket back around his 30-yard line, chased by Za’Darius Smith and Brandon Williams of the Ravens, now running laterally toward the right sideline at the 28. In a dead sprint, actually. Smith, surprisingly fast for 275 pounds. Mahomes, at the 30 yard-marker on the field, veered slightly upfield as he wound up to throw on the run, to throw somewhere. “His eyes connected with my eyes,” Hill told me afterward. “In that situation, you’re just thinking, ‘Stay alive, stay alive! Let him see you.’ “
Crazy thing was, 39 yards downfield, and just approaching the left hashmark running a crosser to get within range, Hill had two Ravens on him. And Hill was a wounded animal. “My foot’s bad,” he’d say after the game.
Mahomes pulled the ball way back. As Smith’s hands were inches from beginning a hard shove of Mahomes out of bounds, Mahomes flung the ball with a strong flick to a target about 39 yards downfield and another 30 yards to his sharp left, past the center of the field, aiming for a spot right near the left hash.
“I knew he had a chance,” Mahomes said of Hill. “I always say he’d be the best center fielder of all time from the way he tracks the ball.”
Splat! Down went Mahomes, hard, at his own 37-yard line near the right boundary. Desperation heave. The ball was coming down just inside the left hash at the Baltimore 27-yard line. Linebacker C.J. Mosley dove at Hill as the ball hit his hands. But Hill, even with the bum foot, was too quick for Mosley and the trailing corner, Jimmy Smith. Hill skittered toward the right sideline and went out of bounds, limping on the bum wheel, at the 12-yard line.
Gain of 48.
“Our people did a tremendous job wrapping my foot,” Hill said. “I was still feeling my heel, but at the same time, I knew that man, if you want the W, if you want to be a great receiver, this is your moment to make plays.”
Felt like a formality after that. Chiefs tied it on a short TD strike by Mahomes with 53 seconds left, then won it in overtime on a Harrison Butker field goal.
There were other ridiculous throws from the shortstop. The no-look throw across his body to the left, to wideout Demarcus Robinson for 17 yards late in the first half, elicited this from the CBS broadcast team:
Tony Romo: “It’s almost a no-look! That’s incredible!”
Jim Nantz: “No-look sidearm!”
Romo:“Watching him … [giddy Romo voice] How do you not like watching him play!”
Just then, on the next snap, Mahomes evaded three Ravens and spied Kareem Hunt-replacement Spencer Ware gamboling up the left sideline. Mahomes pushed a sidearm laser into a small gap, right into Ware’s hands. Gain of 31.
“The things he does, it’s hard to practice that,” said Mosley.
Last month, I spent time with Reid after a win over Arizona. We went back to the Favre days, when he was the gunslinger’s quarterback coach for a time in Green Bay. History’s repeating. “I was lucky enough to coach Brett Favre, who was able to throw from every angle possible. I’ve seen it done before. But [now I] just go, ‘Whoa,’ a lot during the game, as you did. You just have to remind yourself that it’s a football in his hand because he does it so easy with grace.
“Certain guys just know where everybody is on the field. And he has that. He can just go on a play, and he sees. They talk about Ted Williams and that feel. He’s got that … He can see everything, feel everything.”
You got the feeling Sunday that this win meant a little more to the Chiefs. On one snap, Mahomes saw 11 Ravens within three yards of the line. Cover zero and then some. Who does that? Who says, We’re going to blitz the tar out of you. Complete it downfield if you have time—and you won’t. Baltimore did. On one of those plays, Mahomes just folded himself into a spot just behind the line, surrendering. But not for long.
This game will be terrific for Mahomes, because he had to play in a very uncomfortable situation. Seems like he loved it, because it forced him to learn. Other teams—starting with the 10-3 Chargers on Thursday night at Arrowhead—will go to school on what made Mahomes uncomfortable. Mahomes knows. It’s part of the chess games.
“These are the best wins,” Mahomes said. “These are the wins that satisfy you the most.”
They get bigger as it gets colder, kid.