Mahomes the Magnificent
Could the Chiefs actually reach the Super Bowl? With Patrick Mahomes, anything’s possible.
All Photos Courtesy of The Kansas City Chiefs
You hear the conversations everywhere: in the produce aisle, in the next booth over at a restaurant, in line at the post office. With each game, with each absurdly good performance, how can you keep quiet when what you’re seeing is so unprecedented?
Since September the most popular topic between friends, and even strangers, is the Chiefs. And most notably, they can’t stop marveling at the wunderkind quarterback who is setting all kinds of records.
Patrick Mahomes has quickly asserted himself as the face of the franchise, the most dynamic player in the NFL, and a sure-fire MVP candidate. The Chiefs traded up to get him in the 2016 NFL Draft, and their faith in him has been rewarded in ways even they couldn’t have foreseen this early. Mahomes is obviously blessed to have offensive weapons around him that are perfectly tailored to his singular talent. But all great teams revolve around their quarterbacks, and the Chiefs at long last have drafted a total stud that not only can, but should carry them to a Super Bowl – if not this year, then for many years to come. Heck, nobody’s been able to really stop him yet.
“I’ve been watching Mahomes for a few years now, and I remember going back to when he was coming out and I was doing some draft coverage. I described watching Mahomes as kind of a guilty pleasure,” ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Greg McElroy says. “And as someone that really loves the quarterback position and studies the quarterback position, there were things that he did that just didn’t make sense from a physics standpoint. Like, there’s no reason why you should be able to throw that ball the way you just did under those circumstances. He could do things that you just couldn’t wrap your head around, and it wasn’t all good, by the way. There were some bad things in there too!
“But he was remarkable, and it’s really not surprising to me, because now he’s refined his craft just a little bit and having a redshirt year in the NFL has really benefited him as well. You see the gunslinger mentality hasn’t left him, but his understanding of situations and understanding of what the team needs from him has improved drastically. It’s been a joy to watch.”
One such play that had everybody in the sports world buzzing was in the Monday Night Football game in Denver against the Broncos on Oct. 1. Down 23-13 in the fourth quarter, Mahomes threw a touchdown pass to Travis Kelce to get within a field goal. Then the Chiefs got the ball back, and with a little more than three minutes remaining on a third-and-5 play, Mahomes scrambled to his left and completed a pass to Tyreek Hill for a first down – left-handed. It was like Michael Jordan switching hands in midair in the 1991 NBA Finals for the Bulls against the Lakers, only this time the degree of difficulty athletically seemed like it was even higher.
As insane as that sequence was, Mahomes nonchalantly said that was really the only way he could make the play, much to everyone’s astonishment. Seven plays later, the Chiefs scored the winning touchdown to beat the Broncos 27-23.
But it’s the stuff in between his ambidextrous display and the touchdown in that drive that also separates Mahomes from his peers. One of the bugaboos with this Chiefs team has been the number of penalties they incur, and they found themselves in a 2ndand 30 from their own 31-yard line. Mahomes’ Chiefs share striking similarities to the Royals teams that made back-to-back World Series in that no situation is too daunting for them and they don’t seem to be rattled by anything. So what if it’s a 2ndand 30? Who cares? Mahomes would later complete passes of 23 and 35 yards to get the first down, keep the drive going, and ultimately win the game.
The 23-year-old from Texas Tech has made a weekly habit of making stat geeks check the record books in just his first full season. Team records are falling fast; Mahomes only needed 12 games to set the franchise single-season record for touchdown passes.
But Mahomes has broken numerous NFL records too. His 10 touchdown passes in his first three games of 2018 and 31 touchdown passes in his first 10 games of 2018 are new records. He was the first quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in his first 10 games as a pro. He tied Andrew Luck’s single-season record of most consecutive 300-yard passing games with eight. He only needed 13 games to throw for 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, faster than any quarterback in NFL history, and he would finish the regular season with a mind-boggling 5,079 yards and exactly 50 touchdowns. Only Peyton Manning in 2013 has eclipsed the 5,000 yard, 50-touchdown plateau before.
Due to Mahomes’ next-level virtuosity, the Chiefs scored the third-most points in NFL history with 565.
“To see the reaction after the first three weeks, people kept trying to be like, ‘No, he’s hot right now, but he’ll come back down to earth.’ Sure enough, he goes out and not only does what he did the week before, but surpasses in a lot of ways what he did the week before,” McElroy says. “I think just seeing people becoming more and more knowledgeable about him, what we’ve all kind of known at the college level for a few years, has been really fun to watch.”
All the while, Mahomes is a guy who is incredibly sure of himself, but he’s never arrogant or bombastic. He loves his teammates, loves to get excited for them, loves to encourage them. Mahomes is also studious, opinionated, inquisitive, and informed, which everyone sees when he sits down with Chiefs coach Andy Reid after nearly every offensive possession. It’s one of the more unique player-coach interactions in the NFL.
“It’s only possible with the Chiefs because Andy has such great respect and confidence in his defensive coordinator that he can really step aside and use those between-series moments to do immediate repair, tweaking, whatever is required,” says former Chiefs play-by-play man Kevin Harlan, who has called a few Chiefs games for CBS and on Westwood One Radio this season. “This is like having a professor in college give you individual tutoring, not only after the fact, but during the test. If you’re stuck on a segment of a test, here’s the professor sitting here next to you and guiding you through the questions and the answers. That’s very comparable to what Andy is doing, because Bob Sutton is such an experienced defensive coordinator. He can take however long it is and go over the pictures and talk to his young quarterback about what he should be seeing, what he should be doing, and making sure that his mind, his frame of reference, his compass is continuing to point in the right direction.”
Mahomes is one of the most instantly likeable, approachable, and personable people in football, and like so many athletes before him, he is already showing how marketable he can be. You don’t even have to be watching a Chiefs game to be familiar with a commercial that CommunityAmerica did on a rainy summer day with Mahomes before he started to fill up the stat sheets. CommunityAmerica became the Chiefs’ official banking partner in the 2017 season, and this year’s “closer to the game” campaign has Mahomes showing off his arm strength by giving a greenskeeper the chance to catch one of his passes.
Set to music that bears a strong resemblance to “Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis, the wide-eyed everyman catches the ball as he rides in his golf cart, only to make a mess in the process.
“We did get a chance to sit down with him and talk to him, and find out, what’s he like? What are his interests? What does he want to be seen as? What does he want his brand to be?” says Matt Johnson, CommunityAmerica’s Vice President of Marketing. “A lot of those questions I don’t think he knows the answers to yet. But you know immediately when you talk to him there’s something special. And again, this is before he even got there to take the field. But I will say in shooting that commercial, he’s effortlessly throwing the ball 60 yards. I mean, he doesn’t even have to try. The guy just has something special. Anybody that’s around it and certainly everybody in the city that’s watching it can see it. There’s no denying it.”
It didn’t take long for Mahomes to show off his endorsement chops on a national level. Soon after he revealed his love for ketchup, he became a “brand ambassador” for Hunt’s in December.
Hearing the “M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants reverberate through Arrowhead during the season finale against the Raiders, it’s clear the feelings between Kansas City and Mahomes are mutual. He’s a man about town, cheering on Sporting KC in the MLS Cup Playoffs, surprising a youth football league at a Dick’s Sporting Goods in Leawood, or rocking the jorts and a T-Bones jersey at Kansas Speedway. Before this season began, there was a growing sentiment that if he played to this potential, Patrick Mahomes could own this town.
But we’re beyond potential now. He’s the breakout star of this NFL season, and the level of enthusiasm here feels so similar to when Joe Montana came to Kansas City and led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game 25 years ago. We’re just at totally different stages in their careers.
“That was an excitement that was like Sinatra coming to sing late in his career when you’ve really never had a chance to appreciate him, because he always played in a distant city and only sang on records. And now, you can actually watch him live. That’s what Montana was like,” Harlan says. “This kid has come like lightning, just a bolt. He’s answered beyond anyone’s imagination. I mean, this has never happened before, and it’s like a once-in-a-generation type of story. And sure enough, we’re getting it here.
“To make the astounding move of shipping off this quarterback [Alex Smith] who’s at the very height of his game and bringing in the kid who you’ve kind of stuck your neck out for and put your reputation on, was a pretty big gamble. But people love gamblers. They love when people stick their neck out and take chances. I don’t think there’s a successful person in the world that would say playing it close to the vest got me to where I’ve been in life. Successful people will say that if I didn’t take chances, I would never be where I am. And that’s really what this organization did. They took a chance on this kid, and the gamble has paid off.”