I have been cautioning people that they need to tamp down their expectations of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
He had only four career starts going into Monday, though he was 4-0. Four games doesn’t, however, make a career or punch your ticket directly to the Hall of Fame.
Mahomes had not encountered adversity this season, other than Pittsburgh erasing an early 21-0 lead to tie the Chiefs, only to see Kansas City quickly reassume the lead and grab control of the game.
I thought the Denver game would be the acid test. Even though Mahomes won his first career start last year at Mile High, Denver was just mailing it in at that point and played mostly its second-line personnel.
This was a Monday night game with the entire country watching, not to mention the rock-star hype surrounding Mahomes has been Bieber-like.
Denver blitzed Mahomes from the outset and it kept blitzing from all angles to confuse the swashbuckling young gunslinger. The Broncos piled up a 23-13 lead after three quarters and it appeared they were taking a pin to the balloon that is “Mahomes Mania.”
Instead, it was more of “Mahomes Magic.”
The former Texas Tech Red Raider kept his cool and directed the Chiefs on two touchdown drives in the final period against one of the best defenses in the NFL and in one of the most hostile environments. The play of the night was when he rolled to his left with the ball in his right hand, switched it to his left, and shot-putted it to Tyreek Hill for a key first down. That literally gobsmacked me that he had the wherewithal to improvise like that.
After being merely mortal in the first half, Mahomes wound up with 304 yards passing and again, no interceptions. Before the season I proclaimed he’d probably lead the NFL in picks because of his college penchant to make throws into the tightest of windows.
But Andy Reid has schooled his young thoroughbred on valuing the football. He has yet to turn the ball over and every time he has an inclination for the miracle play, he tucks the ball and runs or throws it away.
Mahomes was hardly helped by his offensive line as it struggled mightily with Denver’s quickness and the crowd noise. Eric Fisher especially struggled as he had two false starts and the offense was hit with numerous flags. Seldom did Mahomes have time to set his feet as most of his attempts came on the run and his arm strength allowed him to complete many throws that most quarterbacks simply can’t make.
Mahomes had a lot of help from Kareem Hunt, whose strong runs slowed down the pass rush. Hunt looked like the Hunt of last year, constantly breaking tackles and running straight ahead instead of going side-to-side. Kansas City needs that balance or teams are going to copy Denver’s template of bringing constant pressure from all angles.
This win was huge for numerous reasons. Not only did it give the Chiefs a two-game divisional lead, but they are 2-0 in the division (both on the road) and 3-0 on the road overall, where victories are so precious. All the talk before the season was if they could get through the first six games 3-3 or better, they would be a playoff lock since the schedule lessens.
There are two games left in the gauntlet, at home against Jacksonville and then at New England — maybe the two biggest challengers to the Chiefs since it appears Pittsburgh is in self-destruction mode. Jacksonville is regarded as the top defensive team in the AFC while New England is still New England, despite what anybody says.
The Chiefs’ defense probably still keeps them from being the team to beat in the AFC, but maybe they are revolutionizing the way we look at the game. It used to be “defense wins championships,” but given the scoring explosion this year in the NFL where 300-yard passing games are the norm and not the exception, the team with the best offense may be the favorite.