The key for Patrick Mahomes to be Patrick Mahomes again? To not think the sky is falling.
“The last few weeks,” Mahomes said after playing like Mahomes again Sunday night in Kansas City’s 41-14 rout of the reeling Raiders, “motivated me more to come in and work and practice even better. I mean, whenever you’re not having the success that you’re used to having, all you can do is come to practice and have a better day than you did the day before. I think the biggest thing for me was as a whole team—offense, defense, everybody, special teams—everybody came into practice and really just executed. We shot ourselves in the foot the whole year with turnovers and penalties. We just came in and kept correcting those things.”
Ever stare at the ceiling at night? I asked. Ever wonder, man, what’s wrong with me?
“No,” he said. “I didn’t.”
Isn’t that what you want in your franchise quarterback—to not have a crisis in confidence after a few uncharacteristically bad games? Mahomes has the ability to be introspective and to work on his game and to come to practice convinced that everything’s going to be fine. Scoring 37 points in three games stinks. But after experiencing three historic seasons to start his career, Mahomes knew the slump was not permanent. As Andy Reid said Sunday night, “He lasted longer than any quarterback in the history of the game without a slump, all right, and so it’s going to happen. There’s going to be a little something that doesn’t go your way. And it’s important that you power through it, stay confident and keep firing. That’s how he’s wired.”
In Vegas, it all started with a left-handed pass on his first throw of the game, continued with a basketball pass to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown, and lasted deep into the second half with one of those don’t-throw-it-don’t-throw-it-hey-what-a-great-throw touchdown heaves to running back Darrel Williams.
Kansas City 41, Las Vegas 14. Just like the old days.
Mahomes: 70 percent passing, 406 yards, five TDs, no interceptions. Just like the old days.
“I mean,” he said, “I don’t know if there was ever doubt.”
There was. Just not in his head, which is all that matters.
The earth seems back on its axis, mostly. Dallas and Buffalo and Kansas City were their explosive selves again; the Packers got Aaron Rodgers back and joyfully found they might not be wholly dependent on him this year; the Colts got to .500 for the first time all year; and Tennessee and New England stayed hot.
But this is the NFL, so there is weirdness.
“I’m in this twilight zone,” said Dan Campbell, coach of the 0-8-1 Lions, after they tied the Steelers 16-16 in one of the ugliest games since this species began to walk upright.
“The stupidity has to go away—we’re a dumb football team,” said Bruce Arians, coach of the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs, after they lost to Taylor Heinicke and Washington 29-19.
“This time last week I was eating a bowl of cereal—you feel me?” said Cam Newton, who, after not playing in a game since January accounted for touchdowns on his first two plays of 2021. Carolina 34, Arizona 10.
And so much more is happening. Boldface names this week: Jim Mora, Sam Huff, Cassius Marsh, Tony Corrente (I will not let it die), A.J. Dillon, Jon Gruden, Russell Wilson, Mike Vrabel, Jakobi Meyers. Sit back, relax, enjoy the flight.
Players don’t think the way we do, most often. Early on in Las Vegas—on the first KC throw, in fact—it looked very much like Mahomes was back to the good old days. Flushed left, wrapped with both arms by Raiders tackle Quinton Jefferson, Mahomes was about to take a short sack. He transferred the ball to his left hand and threw/shovel-passed a floater to Jerick McKinnon. Gain of six. Not enough for a first down, but a harbinger. A harbinger of fun to come.
“It was like you guys had your mojo back,” I said to him.
“You never wanna be in third-and-long, especially with a defense like this and the pass rushers they have,” Mahomes said. “I was able to step up in the pocket and I was just trying to find a way to get the running back the football. I think we had that mojo this whole week of practice. I mean, we were ready to go. We knew how important this game was. We knew this team was playing a lot of really good football and it was a division opponent. We came in with the attitude that we were gonna go out there and be who we are. That’s what we did.”
Well, this was a sign that they’d be who they were in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and in September. It kept going, a neat eight-yard in-stride out-route to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown late in the first quarter. Then, late in the second quarter, the old Mahomes surfaced again, with sort of a push-pass over interior traffic to Hill from a yard out for a 17-7 halftime lead. The mojo … it was there.
“You can just feel it, man,” Mahomes said, talking about how it built through the game. “You can feel that energy that you have in practice. You can feel the guys going through practice. I knew that once we got to Sunday Night Football, especially like you said, the outside world talking, guys wanted to show out. Guys wanted to show that we still are the Kansas City Chiefs. We still can be a dominant team. Complete. It’s gonna take us being great every single week at practice, in the film room and then on Sundays, obviously.”
The game was still a game early in the fourth quarter. KC, 27-14. Mahomes missed Mecole Hardman on a deep route up the right sideline on second down. On third-and-11 from the Raider 38, Kelce was the focus over the middle, but he wasn’t free. Mahomes got the snap around the Raider 43-, faded back to his own 49-, left the pocket to the left and then quickly up the middle, looking, looking, looking.
Out of the corner of his left eye, he said, he saw Williams. Maybe he was the fourth option. Maybe he wasn’t an option at all.
“I’m pretty sure I was going to someone, I think Kelce, in the middle,” Mahomes said. “But it wasn’t there. So yeah, out of the corner of my eye I saw Darrel, way out of the backfield. I threw it up and I probably underthrew him a little bit. I probably could’ve thrown it, made it a little bit easier in the back corner of the end zone. He always tells me he’s a receiving back, and boy, he showed it there. Great catch.”
“Did that feel like the good old days?” I said. “It looked like it.”
“Yeah, I mean, for sure,” he said. “We haven’t had those big plays this year. Been having to drive the length of the field. I think what we showed today is you come out and you execute early, and you kinda start driving the length of the field, defenses are gonna have to come up and we still have that big-play ability. I even missed a couple shots in this game that we probably could’ve hit, and had even have more big plays.”
The buses were leaving now, and Mahomes was on the move. He was leaving Las Vegas as a first-place football player, the only team in the AFC West with six wins. Not that he needed it to know deep down he was still great at his job, but he did know it was good to get the wolves away from the door.
He said it was Andy Reid who put the game in perspective for him, and for the team. Reid told the team how important this game was. Win it, and the division is in your control. With Mahomes, Reid was the way he always is. Which is why they’ve got the kind of relationship any coach would want to have with his franchise quarterback.
“Me and him,” Mahomes said, “he just kept reiterating to me to be myself. Go out there and play. Have fun. Take the check down when it’s there but don’t lose who you are.”
Five touchdowns, no interceptions, 406 yards, a 27-point division win. That’s who Patrick Mahomes is, still.