On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs held off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to secure a 27-24 win — and advance to 10-1 on the season.
Here are five things we learned from the game:
1. Mahomes is No. 1 with a bullet
With 49 pass attempts during Sunday’s game, Patrick Mahomes now has 1,522 in his career. By itself, that means little. But in order to be eligible to set an NFL career passing record, you have to have at least 1,500 — so Mahomes may now be compared to the best in league history.
Now in his fourth season, the 25-year-old has a long way to go to catch some of the leaders in so-called counting stats; Drew Brees’ career mark of over 79,000 passing yards will be safe for a while longer — as will Tom Brady’s 569 career passing touchdowns.
But in his first day eligible for the leaderboard, Mahomes holds a career passer rating of 110.7 — the best in NFL history. With just 20 career interceptions, he also first appeared among the league leaders with the lowest interception rate (1.3%) in history. In addition, he now holds the best career mark in touchdown-to-interception ratio (5.3) and in passing yards per game (307.4).
Mahomes had already led all NFL passers in more-esoteric statistics like adjusted yards per attempt, net yards per attempt and adjusted net yards per attempt — for which the required number of attempts are less stringent. His current career numbers of 9.28, 7.92 and 8.69 still easily lead all three categories.
Mahomes has a long way to go to be named the greatest of all time. But what a debut at the big kids’ table!
2. With Mahomes, it’s not just about the statistics
As we say in Missouri, those numbers are shore pretty! But behind them are the things Mahomes does that simply can’t be quantified on a stat sheet. We saw several examples on Sunday:
After a holding penalty set up first-and-20 at his own 38 during the Chiefs’ first drive of the third quarter, Mahomes threw an interception. But as has happened throughout his career, it was a purposeful poor throw. Mahomes had noticed that the Buccaneers were offsides and realized he could take a big swing on a risky throw to Marcus Kemp. The Buccaneers’ Jordan Whitehead picked it off, but it didn’t matter; Mahomes knew the play was coming back.
Two plays later, Mahomes ran to his right on an option play, making an exquisite pitch fake that froze all defenders in the vicinity. He cut back inside — casually running past the jockstraps littering the field — and scampered for 17 yards. The play converted a third-and-1 — and two plays later, Mahomes found Tyreek Hill for his third touchdown reception of the game.
On a second-and-6 at the Kansas City 40 — with just 3:15 left in the game and the Chiefs holding on to a 27-20 lead — Mahomes was flushed from the pocket and scrambled toward the left sideline. Not only did he know exactly how much yardage he needed to gain — he picked up eight on the run — he managed to slide in-bounds to keep the clock running. At the next snap of the ball, there was only 2:25 remaining. Three plays later, Mahomes hit Hill for eight yards on a third-and-6 — and the game was over.
Mahomes is hardly the first quarterback in the NFL to demonstrate this kind of vision and situational awareness — but it’s a rare thing to see in a player during his third season as a starter.
3. Tom Brady still has it... sometimes
We sportswriters like to talk about seeing flashes from young players. These indicate that the player has a high ceiling — that he might not yet be a top talent, but given time and experience, he could become one.
On Sunday, we saw the reverse in Tom Brady’s performance: there were flashes of the player he has been over the last two decades.
Like when he expertly found Rob Gronkowski for 29 yards on play-action during the second quarter, setting up the Buccaneers’ first touchdown. Or the beautiful third-quarter pass he threw to Chris Godwin that gained 44 yards — while he was facing a safety blitz. Those were vintage Brady plays.
But on the very next play, Brady reacted to pressure in a different way: putting too much air under a deep pass that made it easy pickings for Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland.
Brady’s other interception — which at first glance appeared to be a heads-up play from Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen — was simply a bad throw under pressure. It hit Sorensen squarely on his helmet — and it was child’s play for Tyrann Mathieu to field the carom.
Brady still deserves our respect. For two decades, he has been the face of the NFL. And this season, he’s shown that he’s still capable of playing effectively. But he can no longer consistently perform the same way he always has.
There’s no doubt that he’s the greatest of all time. But it will soon be time for someone else to take his place on the throne.
4. Say what you want: Sammy Watkins makes a difference
We’d all like to see the Chiefs wide receiver on the field for every game. But for whatever reason, Watkins never seems to be able to get through a season without missing a significant number of games. On Sunday — back in the lineup after missing five games with a hamstring injury — Watkins had just four catches for 38 yards. That’s hardly the kind of production that will catch anyone’s eye.
But Watkins’ presence created a problem for the Tampa Bay defense. After Tyreek Hill’s astonishing first quarter, they had no choice but to double-cover both Hill and tight and Travis Kelce. After that, Watkins had to be the player who would be certain to get Tampa Bay’s attention. But whether other receivers would be covered was open to question.
And so it was that late in the third quarter — on first-and-10 at the Kansas City 11 — Mahomes saw wide receiver Mecole Hardman all alone in the secondary; the Buccaneers had failed to account for him. Hardman was unable to bring in Mahomes’ pass — which without a doubt would have been an 89-yard touchdown — but it demonstrates why Watkins’ presence on the field is so important: it opens things up for other players.
And just a quick note for Hardman: you’ve really got to catch that ball. With that reception, we very well could have been talking about Mahomes breaking the NFL’s single-game passing record — the 554-yard performance from the great Norm Van Brocklin almost seven decades ago — not to mention a more significant victory in one of the season’s toughest matchups.
But we have faith: you’ll get it the next time.
5. The offensive line needs help
With Mahomes’ ability to scramble and beat blitzes, it’s taken a while for us to notice — but it’s time to recognize that the team’s offensive line needs some real help.
Some of it isn’t the team’s fault. They did, after all, make their plans for the season based on the idea that both veteran right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and rookie Lucas Niang would be available in 2020. And it’s not their fault, either. In opting out for the season, both made the choices they felt they had to make. It’s not up to us to second-guess their difficult decisions on the basis of how they affected the fortunes of a professional football team.
But the fact remains that the Chiefs need to do something. The offensive line cannot consistently provide run support — or protection for the team’s biggest asset. At this point in the season, their immediate options are limited. But they must be explored.
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