I don’t blame anyone whose confidence was waning as the Chiefs surrendered a touchdown with 4:04 left on the clock in the fourth quarter to trail the Baltimore Ravens, 24-17.
The scar tissue built up from similar moments like the one the Chiefs faced as the game was winding down on Sunday is thick and in unfair quantities. I was already workshopping some kind of “404 error” joke about the time remaining on the clock and defensive failure on crossing routes that put the Chiefs in a position where they needed to score a touchdown against the league’s best defense.
You know, just in case.
As the day was winding down, the Patriots looked primed to overtake home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win in Miami and the Texans had a chance to get the ball back and potentially a bye less certain. The Chiefs were on the verge of leaving Arrowhead without a victory in a game that took a toll on Spencer Ware, Tyreek Hill and Cameron Erving, something the Chiefs could not afford with the personnel losses they’ve experienced. What’s more, the Chargers were coming into town in less than 100 hours. You could see a clear path to how the Chiefs were going to blow their opportunity to position themselves well to be the last team standing.
Anxiety was creeping in for those that have experienced the laundry list of losses with infamous names. Inordinate amounts of heartbreak have been ingrained in this city. However, none of those games and teams had Patrick Mahomes and his rare talent under center. The Chiefs roared down the field with the help of an all-time effort from both Mahomes and Hill.
#SomethingSpecial We're all going to remember where we were on 4th and 9. Spectacular efforts from both Mahomes and Tyreek Hill to create an iconic moment in the new era of Chiefs football. pic.twitter.com/IvO9oePrNh— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 11, 2018
Last year, the Chiefs looked like the best team in football the first six weeks of the season, only to lose six of their next seven. That team never won an 11th game. The 2018 team has 11 in the bank, could very feasibly end the regular season with 14, and 17 by February. I wrote this week that Mahomes was staring at a very difficult five day stretch amidst tremendous adversity on and off the field. More went wrong on Sunday, and yet a win on Thursday all but seals the one seed.
Nothing is off the table. It doesn’t matter who is blocking, who he’s throwing to (although a full complement of talent would be nice for the home stretch). It’s in him to carry a team (and city) through unrealistic expectations.
We’re doing things a little differently this week with the Chiefs playing on Thursday. Instead of the full series, we’ll be doing one and keeping pieces of the typical format.
Yet again, Mahomes had some fantastic moments on third down this week.
#SomethingGood Mahomes had some bright spots on third down again this week: Kelce on a corner (similar to what Hill dropped last week), the 3rd and 19 conversion with Hill and a beautiful 3rd and 6 TD pass to Kelce with anticipation. pic.twitter.com/LU88eb77HG— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 11, 2018
These were all big plays to keep the chains moving or scored.
Play one: third-and-8 and the Ravens are in 2-man Coverage. Mahomes delivers a perfectly placed ball before the safety can close and over Kelce’s man. He used the perfect amount of touch to protect Kelce but make it a more-than-catchable ball. Also, there is excellent separation at the top of the route stem from the tight end.
Play two: As the Chiefs have done frequently with either Hill or Kelce in the slot, they run a deep crossing route. This time they hit Hill on a third-and-19 (!!!). Mahomes gets front-side pressure and shows his growth with a quick, well-timed, subtle slide up, with both hands on the ball, to give himself space to deliver a great throw to give Hill a chance to convert. Eric Weddle drives on the throw in time to push Hill short of the line to gain, but Hill recovers to get the first down.
For Mahomes to transition from an instinctive adjustment against pressure into a calm delivery is a sign of growth for me. It looks like things are slowing down for him more and more every week..
Play three: The Chiefs run Kelce on a corner against 2-high coverage on third-and-6 deep in Ravens territory. Kelce is a little late off the ball, but Mahomes throws this ball with excellent anticipation. Mahomes’ eyes work to the field first before back to Kelce on the corner. He maintained enough leverage for Kelce in the corner and placed a perfect ball safely into his hands for a huge touchdown.
I’m giddy to see all these small indicators of rapid growth. There’s less and less holes in Mahomes’ game every time he steps on the field. It should delight Chiefs fans and terrify the rest of the league. This is special.
Mahomes was feeling himself a little too much on this interception.
#SomethingBad It's rarely a good thing when you can't tell who the ball was intended for. Bad decision to chuck this ball up. Mahomes just tried to do a little too much here. pic.twitter.com/wC6tADX2Gk— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 11, 2018
Mahomes does an excellent job escaping pressure on this play. The Chiefs are bringing Kelce and Hill into the boundary from their field alignment in this 3x1 formation with Demarcus Robinson running an outside release vertical with the other two coming underneath it. I have no clue who this ball was actually intended for. It was rushed and frankly a poor decision to even try this. That it could have been intended for anyone says it all. It was either under or overthrown depending on the intent. While you will always take all the amazing plays for moments like these, Mahomes would admit you want these plays eliminated.
All this energy came very close to being lost in overtime.
#SomethingBad How fragile the line between winning and losing is can be exemplified on this play. Mahomes to this point has been fantastic, and yet if the Ravens recover this inexplicable OT fumble against air, the Chiefs could have very easily left Arrowhead with a loss. pic.twitter.com/pLNgwT7D0i— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 11, 2018
With 6:25 remaining in the extra period and the Chiefs at the Ravens’ 12-yard line, Mahomes initially attempts to create rolling to his right only to redirect to his non-dominant side. As he rolls to his left, he inexplicably drops the football. Luckily for him, Eric Fisher recovers the ball and the Chiefs salvage the possession with a field goal. It could have been a disastrous way to end the game.
I dare you to find a more remarkable two-play sequence than this.
The no-look pass will be a signature moment for Patrick Mahomes’ career. It really was special. The fact that he had to presence of mind after evading pressure to find Robinson still in the structure of the play is one thing. Add in the fact that he hit him on a no-look pass, in-stride, is otherwordly. Watch how the defensive lineman jumps to contest a pass that’s five yards away from him. There are quarterbacks in the NFL who wouldn’t be as accurate if they were running against air and he was utilizing the luxury of vision on his target.
The fact that he made that play in a two-minute situation is absurd. The real test for Mahomes will be continuing to use restraint of this skill set.
The next play, Mahomes delivers what I think is an equally impressive throw down the sideline to Ware. Mahomes again has to avoid pressure and is forced to roll to his left. With the Ravens showing Cover 1 (man coverage with a middle safety), EDGE Terrell Suggs peels off with Ware running a swing route. Suggs loses sight of Ware as Mahomes works towards them. Mahomes contorts his body to fit it in between Suggs and Demarcus Robinson running a hitch route. Ware catches it, stays in bounds off first contact and makes his way into field goal range for a spectacular gain of 31 yards.
Those weren’t the only to special plays from the kid this week either. I actively had to shorten the list, but some remained. Like this great throw.
#SomethingSpecial This play won't get talked about much but Mahomes fit this throw between two defenders and into tight coverage. Around the free rushing Weddle and between him and Suggs. Whew. pic.twitter.com/xa3ZPaqSzq— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 11, 2018
The Chiefs call a run-pass option. Mahomes elects to throw the slant to Hill. The Ravens bring pressure off the edge and with Weddle and with him in his face, Mahomes delivers a sidearm throw to Hill between both Weddle and Suggs. Ridiculous. It was actually a great call by the Ravens, but Mahomes is able to beat good defense with an athletic adjustment to throw the ball.
This play that got called back deserves heaps of praise as well.
#SomethingSpecial They declined this 2nd and 18 unfortunately, but it doesn't diminish it at all. I'm actually okay with throwing back into the field in this situation. Kelce worked back to the ball well, there's wasn't to much traffic. Great play. pic.twitter.com/HQnMqFQWWa— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 11, 2018
Yet another creation and a play where the Chiefs are well behind the sticks. Mahomes does his work outside the pocket yet again. He rolls left initially, then right, then back to the left. Rolling to his non-dominant throwing side, he sees space to give Kelce a chance in the middle of the field.
(WARNING FOR THE KIDS: It’s extremely rare that it’s a good idea to throw back into the middle of the field. There are typically more bodies in the middle of the field, it’s hard to generate the same kind of velocity throwing away from where your momentum is taking you, and the ball has to travel larger distances because it’s diagonal throw. It’s a bad, bad idea for 99.99999999% of quarterbacks.)
This was actually a great time to make this kind of throw. It was wildly impressive that Mahomes has enough velocity on it get this ball to Kelce, but we’re numb to greatness now. There wasn’t a ton of traffic in the middle of the field, so there was margin for error. Kelce does an excellent job working back to the ball and gaining 17 yards on second-and-18. Hindsight, you wish they would’ve accepted the third-and-1 and let this count.
Great creation and execution by Mahomes and excellent finish by Kelce.
Every week, I add a quick note about something I’ve picked up about the quarterback position through my time learning and playing the game.
“It was supposed to be a pass that went to the left and Tyreek was kind of the clear... the out...out...kind of clearing out and so when I scrambled to the right I knew I didn’t have a lot of guys back there and luckily he just kind of worked back to me and I saw him.” - Patrick Mahomes on the fourth-and-9 play
You might have heard Mahomes mention that Hill was the clear out on the fourth-and-9 play that they connected on. Sometimes, receivers aren’t major parts of the progression of the pass play, but merely are helping clear space like Demarcus Robinson was on the interception.
I learned a rule that you’re never allowed to call a receiver’s route a clear out. They’re just merely an “alert” for certain coverages, so that they never feel out of the play and remain motivated to execute. The way Mahomes stumbled over those words, I wonder if he’s been taught something similar.