In all the excitement over the 69-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill in Friday’s preseason game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons, you may not have noticed a pass completion that could — in the grand scheme of things — have more importance in the development of new Chiefs starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
It came with 2:56 remaining in the first quarter, as the Chiefs were in their second offensive drive of the game. On the previous play, running back Kareem Hunt had been smothered deep in the backfield for a loss of eight yards. Now, on third-and-11 at their own 44, the Chiefs needed a first down.
It’s one of the plays Arrowhead Pride’s Kent Swanson highlighted this week in his film review of Mahomes.
In the moment — up in the press box — the Kansas City Star’s Vahe Gregorian was impressed, too.
From our angle in press box, beauty of Mahomes' third and 11 pass to Kelce for a first down was seeing ball released 3-4 yards before Kelce cut.— Vahe Gregorian (@vgregorian) August 17, 2018
What made this particular play by Mahomes and Travis Kelce so important?
Because the week before, the Chiefs had run exactly the same route — a corner route to Kelce — on the opposite side of the field against the Houston Texans. The results weren’t nearly as good:
Mahomes is going to have to manage the juice on 15-25 yard throws. That's a space you don't want ball sailing, like his only career interception. pic.twitter.com/F1s7SRFgV3— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) August 10, 2018
Exactly why this is so important came up during the Tuesday press conference with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
“The thing I mentioned to you during camp is that [Mahomes] doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” Reid explained. “That’s a positive thing — especially from a coach’s standpoint. You saw the throw he made to Kelce — same route that he threw to Kelce last week, and he overshot it a little bit. This one was right there. They worked on it between games, and it paid off for them right there.”
Reid said that Mahomes’ ability to learn from (and correct) these mistakes so quickly — especially on the bread-and-butter plays of the pro game — is very important.
“Those kind of things... you kind of check those off in your head,” Reid said. “That’s something you keep track of. Listen... he’s got a big arm. He’s got a good way of doing things — it’s how he spent his whole career in college. So the long ones will come. But those intermediate throws — he starts out five for five, and builds on that. That’s important. The possession throws — those short intermediate throws that kind of keep the chains moving are as important, if not more so, than the big ones.”
Reid wanted to make clear that this wasn’t an easy play to make.
“It’s tough. That’s a corner route, on the sideline, on third-and-11. So you have to have that thing lined up right, and you have to have trust in your guy — especially coming off what went on last week. If you could take one throw the week before that wasn’t a positive throw, it was the corner route to Kelce. He came back [to it this week], and there was no hesitation. He came back and shot it. And it was accurate.”
Mahomes told the media that Kelce makes it easy for him.
“It helps to have a tight end like Kelce,” said Mahomes. “He’s played the quarterback position before. He understands what you want. I think I’ve said it before during training camp: he’s always just in the right space — the right spot. So for me, I can throw it and I can trust that he will be in that spot. That’s a big thing to have for a quarterback.”
Mahomes didn’t even mention that he and Kelce had specifically worked on the play.
“We had third-and-long, and having Kelce in man coverage situation is always a good thing, so I just tried to put it out there. He made a great play and got the first down.”
In response to another question about the play, Mahomes echoed his head coach’s statements.
“It was the same corner route — the same concept — just a different side of the field. [It was good] to be able to convert on that when last week, I overshot him. It’s something that I just have to keep getting better on every week — fixing my mistakes — and try to learn from them.”