On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Baltimore Ravens 33-28 to advance to 3-0 on the season.
Here are five things we learned during the game:
1. Patrick Mahomes is continuing to develop
In the grand scheme of things, it was a pretty insignificant play in the game.
But on a second-and-11 at the Ravens 28-yard line in the first quarter, Patrick Mahomes executed a perfect fake handoff to LeSean McCoy. The Ravens defense had no idea what was going on, and Travis Kelce pulled in a nine-yard reception.
Of course... we expect that kind of execution from a savvy veteran like McCoy — but I couldn’t help but notice how deftly Mahomes pulled the ball back and hid it from the Ravens defense.
Is there anything this young man can’t do?
In the next drive, Mahomes demonstrated his developing maturity. On a first-and-10 at the Ravens’ 33-yard line, Mahomes clearly wanted to take a shot at the end zone — but the Ravens had everyone covered. So Mahomes threw to the wide-open McCoy for an easy 8-yard gain. Two plays later, Mahomes got the touchdown he wanted when Demarcus Robinson made an incredible one-handed catch.
While his schoolyard approach to the game — along with the no-look passes and left-handed throws — are attracting all the attention, it’s Mahomes’ ability to learn and execute small details like a fake handoff (and a simple checkdown) that are going to make him one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks... for a very long time.
2. The Chiefs secondary might end up being pretty good... again
Yes... against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Chiefs secondary allowed a passer rating of 122.5 against a sixth-round rookie playing in his first NFL game. But since then, the defense has allowed passer ratings of 61.1 to the Oakland Raiders’ Derek Carr — and on Sunday, just 70.6 to the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson.
We Chiefs fans might not think much of Carr, but that’s not the way the rest of the league looks at him. And right up until game time on Sunday, Jackson — after big performances against the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals — was being discussed as an early candidate for NFL MVP.
Now he’s being seen as... well... the 2018 Lamar Jackson.
I’m not arguing the Chiefs secondary is great. I never have. But it wasn’t hot garbage in 2018, and it isn’t hot garbage now. I’m happy to acknowledge it needs more depth — and maybe even a better top starter; that’s exactly why the Chiefs made a run at Dolphins defensive back Minkah Fitpatrick and are reported to be talking to the Jaguars about Jalen Ramsey.
But the play of rookie Juan Thornhill and veteran free agent Tyrann Mathieu — who was quite good with three passes defensed on Sunday — is a stark improvement to what the Chiefs got from the back end of the secondary last season. Even players with average talent — which fairly describes the starters at cornerback — can hold their own with quality safeties backing them up.
The sample size is pretty small. A few weeks from now, the data may look completely different. But right now, the Chiefs secondary is holding its own.
3. Mecole Hardman is the real deal
For Chiefs fans, former head coach Marty Schottenheimer famously ruined the phrase the real deal by applying it to Greg Hill, who ended up as an underwhelming running back during his four seasons in Kansas City.
But Hardman isn’t just fast. On Sunday, he showed is indeed the real deal.
On a second-and-10 in the second quarter, Mahomes tossed a short pass to Hardman on the left. Hardman tipped it with his fingertips and managed to come up with the ball after a couple of strides — and then reversed course, running completely across the formation and picking up 14 yards.
A couple of plays later, Hardman took a handoff to run around right end. Instead of speed, he showed patience — allowing Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins to block in front of him — and picked up seven yards.
On an exotic kickoff after the Ravens’ final score — a high dropkick, of all things (!) — Hardman had the presence of mind to call for a fair catch. That’s a brilliant play for a rookie.
And in the Chiefs’ opening drive, Sammy Watkins fumbled. Who jumped in to recover it from the ensuing scrum? Mecole Hardman.
None of those plays are likely to make the highlight reel, but they demonstrate how Hardman is more than just another speedy rookie wide receiver. This young man is going places... very fast.
4. Harrison Butker is worth every penny
When an NFL placekicker misses an extra point, it tends to create questions about them. People tend to forget that PATs are no longer automatic.
Still, they are mostly automatic.
Harrison Butker missed an extra point on Sunday — a serious matter because sometimes missed PATs can decide the outcome close games — but in ways, both big and small, Butker demonstrated why the Chiefs gave him that $20 million contract extension.
First, Butker was able to shake off the missed field goal. The next time he lined up in field goal formation, he nailed a 42-yarder. No problem.
Second, he kicked off seven times in the game. Five of them were unreturnable. Of the two that remained, one was meant to be returnable. Butker’s final kickoff was deliberately kicked so that it would hit the ground just behind the blockers immediately in front of Ravens returner Justice Hill and bounce the rest of the way — which gave Chiefs tacklers more time to get downfield. Hill got a 22-yard return, but after such a well-executed kick, the likelihood it was even possible to get a bigger return was extremely low.
5. The throwback end zones at Arrowhead are... fantastic!
I don’t care that the typeface of “Chiefs” is dated. I don’t care that it’s hard for the yellow paint to show its color consistently on the natural grass.
The end zones at Arrowhead on Sunday were beautiful.
This paint scheme was the standard when the Chiefs played at Municipal Stadium. When Arrowhead opened in 1972, the team made it a point to make the look of the stadium fresh and new — which was a perfectly understandable thing to do.
There was one other little problem with the end-zone paint scheme: the last time it was used was December 25, 1971 — the day the Chiefs lost the longest game in NFL history on that heartbreaking 37-yard field goal by Dolphins placekicker Garo Yepremian in the second overtime period.
That 27-24 loss wasn’t just the last game ever played at Municipal Stadium. It also marked the end of an era. The Chiefs wouldn’t make the playoffs again until 1986 — and wouldn’t win a postseason game until 1993.
So you can’t really blame the Chiefs for waiting until now to bring the paint scheme back. But now that they have, it needs to stay. Once and for all, it’s time to forget about all the bad ju-ju. Patrick Mahomes has wiped it all away with a flick of his right wrist — and sometimes his left.