We Are Watching Jordan
It happened again, the chemistry on the Kansas City sideline that led to a very big win. Remember in the Super Bowl, when Kansas City was down 10 midway through the fourth quarter to the Niners? Patrick Mahomes went to the sidelines—third-and-15, season on the line—and said to offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy: “Do we have time to run Wasp?” And 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp was the call, and a 44-yard completion to Tyreek Hill resulted, sparking the 31-21 KC victory.
Sunday night, the moment wasn’t as dramatic. The season wasn’t on the line, but the pesky Raiders were becoming a problem, and they were up 31-28 in their new stadium in Nevada, threatening to sweep the season series, when the Chiefs called their last timeout. Second-and-seven, ball on the Vegas 22, just 34 seconds left.
“Actually,” Mahomes said from the KC locker room 50 minutes after the game, “there was a funny moment in that timeout.”
Mahomes came to the sideline with a definite idea—just like in the Super Bowl. He had a play he really wanted to run, and now he had to sell it to coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Mahomes told Bieniemy the play he liked. “And Coach Bieniemy said to me, ‘Well, I like that play, but I really like this other one better.’ He tells me the play, and I think about it for a second. I said, ‘Hey, I like that play a lot.’ That’s what I love about our offense. We communicate. We’re a good team.”
The play Bieniemy liked was designed for Hill running to the left corner, but when Mahomes took the snap and looked for Hill, there was a cornerback right with him; Mahomes thought he saw a safety over the top, but that must have been a ghost; on replay, it’s only precocious rookie corner Damon Arnette blanketing Hill. Then the route called for Kelce trolling the middle end zone, and then Demarcus Robinson on a stop route to the right, with Mecole Hardman the extra route-runner up the right seam.
“I scrambled to the right, kind of to stretch the play out,” Mahomes said. “I peeked [to Kelce] and I see the safety coming up, running at me. Kelce’s wide open.”
Incredibly wide open, actually. The threat of Mahomes’ athleticism to make the first down caused safety Johnathan Abram to abandon Kelce. Middle linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski was stuck in no man’s land, not sure whether to chase Kelce (he’d have been too late) or to rush Mahomes (useless). Abram must have thought he had help other than Kwiatkowski. But the only help was Arnette, in panic city, leaving Hill to run toward Kelce. No time. Mahomes flicked one to mid-end zone for the easy 22-yard TD to Kelce to win the game. Kansas City 35, Vegas 31. Chiefs 9-1, Raiders 6-4, and the AFC West all but decided with six games to play.
For defenses, this play is the dilemma of the Kansas City offense. Four weapons spread across 45 yards of field near the goal line. If the quarterback was a stationary target, or just moderately mobile, the defense wouldn’t have to spy him. But because Abram had to make a fatal choice—leave Kelce, and it’s a TD; stay with Kelce and it’s at the very least a first-down run, and Mahomes clocks it maybe at the 10-yard line with 20 seconds left. What’s a defense to do?
“That play, that situation,” Mahomes mused in the locker room in Vegas, “those are the moments competitors love. These are the moments you dream of. Honestly, I dreamed of nights like this when I was a kid.”
Let’s give the Raiders some credit here. They beat KC 40-32 at Arrowhead on Oct. 11, and they were up 17-14, 24-21 and 31-28 in the second half in Las Vegas on Sunday night. Mahomes and his mates responded to those three deficits with 93, 91 and 75-yard drives to scores touchdowns. How disheartening must that be for the Raiders?
Still, Las Vegas is going to be trouble for AFC power brokers down the stretch. The Raiders are just 6-4, and their spot in the playoff isn’t assured, but they’re going to be a very hard out if they get there. “That’s the best Raiders team they’ve had since I got here,” said Kelce, the veteran tight end. Mahomes said, “Our franchise has a deep history with the Raiders, and we can feel it come back now.”
But the Raiders are the Isiah-Laimbeer Pistons to the Jordan Bulls. Getting past Mahomes is going to be a headache for every AFC contender for the next, what? Ten years? Fifteen? The kid’s just 25.
“We’re trying to get better and better,” Mahomes told me, “so we have a chance to make a run at the Super Bowl.”
Multiple Super Bowls, I’d say.