The Las Vegas Raiders had just taken a 31-28 lead over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs had the ball at their own 25-yard line with 1:43 left — and had one just one timeout remaining. It wasn’t that long ago that the team’s fans would have despaired at such a situation.
But what was going through quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ mind?
“That we’re going to score,” he told reporters after the Chiefs’ 35-31 victory over the Raiders on Sunday night. “I just didn’t know if it that was going to be overtime — or [if] we were going to win it.”
“Of course, a field goal is enough,” noted NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth as the Chiefs drove down the field. “But you know that no part of Patrick Mahomes’ soul is thinking about a field goal.”
Collinsworth had a valid point about the natural instincts of the Chiefs’ still-young quarterback. But Mahomes is no longer a rookie who only knows how to improvise and throw deep. Now in his fourth year — and facing up to the responsibility of a contract that will make him the centerpiece of a proud franchise for more than a decade — he now sees the bigger picture.
“I think there’s steps,” he explained to reporters. “The first step is trying to get into field goal range. Knowing it’s a three-point game, you want to make sure you are executing the offense, moving the ball down the field and giving Harrison Butker a chance to tie the game.”
But once that had happened, Mahomes could borrow a concept his head coach has made famous: time would be his.
“I knew that I was going to hope that we had a couple of shots at the end zone,” he acknowledged.
As it happened, it only took one.
The rookie Mahomes would have looked for a big play deep on the first snap of the drive. But fourth-year Mahomes took what the Raiders defense would give him, completing five of six passes — none for gains longer than 16 yards — taking the team to the Las Vegas 22-yard line in just over a minute’s time. After running back Darrel Williams was tackled in-bounds after a three-yard pass, the team had to take its final timeout.
With 34 seconds left, Mahomes’ moment had arrived.
“I’m not going to lie,” said tight end Travis Kelce of the final scoring play. “I kind of got tricked on it. I thought it was a middle-field open look. When I got through [the] second level — which is the linebackers — I felt an opening on the opposite hash.”
And then Kelce smiled. “Might as well go where the void is,” he laughed. Using the tracking technology of Next Gen Stats, you can clearly see the opportunity he had sensed.
Patrick Mahomes-Travis Kelce Game-Winning 22-yard TD— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 23, 2020
➤ Mahomes Speed: 12.68 MPH
➤ Receiver Separation: 4.8 yards*
➤ Completion Probability: 60.6%
*Mahomes is responsible for 3 of the top 10 'most open' deep passes in the end zone this season.#KCvsLV | Powered by @awscloud pic.twitter.com/f1G2ncsnOt
“Tyreek Hill was the number one option,” head coach Andy Reid said of the play, “and then back to Travis. It was kind of dependent on what they did and how they pushed.”
You can see this clearly, too. Hill is well-covered by Raiders rookie cornerback Damon Arnette (20) down the left side. When Mahomes rolls away to his right, safety Johnathan Abram (24) sees the open field in front of Mahomes and comes forward — not realizing he’s missed Kelce’s move to the other hash — leaving the tight end wide open in the end zone. By the time Arnette can disengage from Hill, it’s way too late.
Game. Set. Rematch.
“When you’re behind, he can make things happen,” said Reid of his quarterback. “He sees. He’s got great vision. He’s got guys who believe in him around him — and [who] work like crazy to get themselves open.”
“They get in my vision,” said Mahomes, “and I try to give them a chance to make plays. It’s a huge part of our offense; it’s something we work on in the offseason. I think we’ve built chemistry with bringing the same guys back, year-in and year-out, so we know where [everyone] is on that football field.”
“I feel like I see and I feel what Patrick sees back there in the pocket sometimes,” said Kelce — himself a former college quarterback. “And sure enough, it was right on the money.”
Reid even took an opportunity to push back on the idea that the Chiefs should have allowed the Raiders to score more quickly on their previous drive — thereby giving Kansas City more time to re-take the lead.
“I’ve got Pat Mahomes,” said Reid. “You give me a minute and a half, and I’m pretty good right there.”
Watching from the sideline, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire felt the same way.
“The only thing I said to Darwin Thompson the whole time they were on that drive was, ‘Man, we have Patrick Mahomes. I’m not worried about anything.’”