Imagine that your favorite team needs Week 17 of the NFL season to clinch the first seed of the postseason — and the sole bye week.
I cannot relate in the slightest.
On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs ensured that the AFC playoffs will run through Arrowhead Stadium with 17-14 comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons. The game did not go even remotely how anyone had expected. The Chiefs’ offense was supposed to flex its muscles one final time before some key players sat down for a rest during the season’s final week. Instead, the offense was well below its standard, leaving a bad taste in our mouths. But defensively — with a pieced-together linebacker corps — Kansas City performed solidly, surrendering only two touchdowns.
For stretches of this game, the offense turned in a sloppy, inconsistent, disjointed performance. It lacked rhythm and didn’t respond to pressure the way it normally does, struggling to convert drives.
Some of this fell on quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the MVP candidate who rarely plays with that kind of inconsistency.
Here are three key plays from his performance.
Really liked this design in the redzone to get Travis Kelce open on the front line of the end zone via switch release. Mahomes was ready to get the ball on his All-Pro tight end in a tight window.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 29, 2020
Sound on pic.twitter.com/jzo6vcuMzk
Here, head coach Andy Reid calls up a gem to beat zone coverage tight in the red zone, utilizing a switch release to help create a small window for tight end Travis Kelce to catch the ball on the end zone’s front line.
Mahomes executes it to perfection. The Chiefs run Sammy Watkins past Kelce on a switch release to wall off linebacker Deion Jones enough to keep him from making a play on the throw. Mahomes trusts the design; he’s ready to throw the ball into an extremely tight window. It’s an ultimate trust throw; you have to have confidence not only in the design of the play but also in the receiver.
There really isn’t all much of a window for the throw, but the design — and Mahomes’ execution — make it work. Mahomes and Kelce both deserve a ton of credit.
This is one of the worst interceptions of Mahomes’ brilliant career.
We are not used to this in Kansas City. #blessed— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 29, 2020
Wondering if Mahomes thought he could sneak it past Oluokun who was peaking to the field? Also curious why he rushed to throw? Backfoot, unstable platform. Weird play by Mahomes. pic.twitter.com/vu3ohitwz6
With players like Jones and Foyesade Oluokun, the Falcons have athletic linebackers. They can cover a lot of ground and make plays on the football.
On this play — after looking to the field — Oluokun does a fantastic job of closing the window Mahomes thought he had and making an interception.
I’m not entirely sure what Mahomes’ thought process is on the play. My guess is that he thinks he can sneak the ball past Oluokun, who has eyes to the field. He doesn’t seem prepared to throw on Kelce’s break. His feet are rushed while delivering the ball; it looks like he makes a late decision to get it to Kelce.
It’s possible the pressure caused by his offensive line was speeding him up a little bit. He was coming off a tough, physical game where the offensive line sometimes struggled to hold up. The patchwork line might be becoming more difficult to trust — especially with the lack of optimism for right tackle Mitchell Schwartz’s return.
This kind of play isn’t a common occurrence for the world’s best player. It was a poor play — but he made up for it with a comeback drive.
With the Chiefs trailing — and fresh off a near-interception — Mahomes put the Chiefs out in front on a post route.
Something about this endzone and Mahomes to DRob. Tyreek Hill occupying middle field coverage gives Robinson a one-on-one. He stacks him, Mahomes delivers a strike to the backline for the game winner. pic.twitter.com/SZ1OMrzxml— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 29, 2020
Mahomes and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson have had an obvious connection since their early days together. They’ve had special plays out of structure, but they’ve also been able to have success by design. It’s not a frequent connection — but it’s often successful.
On this play, the Chiefs occupy the deep middle field coverage. Tyreek Hill is working vertically in the middle of the field, leaving a one-on-one matchup for Robinson. He stacks the corner — who has no help — and Mahomes throws a perfect ball to the back line.
Robinson has his warts — but in situations like this one, he can win. Mahomes demonstrated his confidence that Robinson could finish the play.