In his first season as a starter, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes did it all in 2018: lead his team to its third-straight AFC West title (and the number one seed in the AFC), soundly defeat the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional playoff — and after becoming only the second player in league history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a single season — win the coveted NFL Most Valuable Player award.
But there was one thing Mahomes didn’t do in 2018: lead his team to the Super Bowl.
Reaching the Super Bowl — and winning it — is the goal of every NFL team entering its Week 1 game. But it’s a one that has a special urgency for the Chiefs in 2019. After losing the AFC Championship Game to the New England Patriots by the barest of margins — you can pick the offsides penalty on Dee Ford, the overtime coin flip or the overthrown pass to Damien Williams in the second quarter — Mahomes and his team are determined to take the next step.
That begins with the Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday. In last season’s Week 5 game against the Jaguars, their defense intercepted Mahomes twice and was the only defense the Chiefs faced last year that able to prevent him from throwing a touchdown pass. The Chiefs won the game 30-14, but Mahomes’ passer rating that day was more than 25 points lower than any other 2018 game.
And Mahomes remembers.
“They have a really good defense,” he said of the Jaguars during his press conference on Wednesday. “There’s depth everywhere. It’s not about just having a great player here or a great player there; they have great players all over the field. They are going to play fast, they are going to play sound and I have to take what’s there — when it’s there — and take the shots when they’re there. I felt like last year, I just kind of missed the shots when they were there and I kind of tried to force some things that didn’t work out in my favor. When you play against a great defense like that, you have to make sure that you’re on top of your game the whole entire game. That is something that I’ll have to do this year.”
It will probably take more than that. Last season — with the Chiefs fielding a defense that allowed 26.3 points per game (the NFL’s ninth-worst) — Mahomes could rarely afford to take the plays the opposing defenses allowed him. Instead, it was necessary for him to play aggressively to put as many points on the board as possible. The Chiefs hope that Steve Spagnuolo’s more aggressive 4-3 scheme — and the addition of players like Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu, Damien Wilson and Darron Lee — will make it possible for Mahomes to operate more efficiently.
But Andy Reid has some new offensive tricks up his sleeve, too — and Mahomes has been collaborating with the head coach in developing them.
“I’m always spitting ideas at Coach,” he said Wednesday. “He usually weeds them out and finds the good ones. I’m always out there trying to find new ways to put our guys in the best position — and as I’m sure you know, Coach has a million note cards of plays. So, just using that on which ones I like and which ones we can sit back and work on a little bit more is something he always listens to my input about.”
Like most other NFL quarterbacks, Mahomes saw only limited snaps in preseason action, but as our Kent Swanson noted on Thursday, he looked wiser and more confident — playing faster and with improved footwork.
And there’s no doubt that Mahomes is excited to get started.
“[I’m] definitely excited to be able to show all these plays we’ve been working on all through training camp and watch how they’re going to work in a game. That’s stuff we worked on all offseason... how we think we can exploit defenses and how we think we can go out there and have success based on stuff we did last year. I’m excited that we’re about to go out there now... use the full game plan and do everything we need to do in order to hopefully come out with a win.”