The calendar turned December and what playoff-contending teams have been building toward is in sight. The NFL season for contending teams is a battle against weekly opponents but also themselves — they’re working hard every day to become the best version of themselves by playoff time.
Some areas of the Kansas City Chiefs look more January-ready than others. Patrick Mahomes has continued to build great performances on top of each other in the last month of the season. He’s been sharp. His pocket management has been much improved and you’ve seen plays benefit from that in the last few weeks. You’re seeing him continue to perfect the line between madness and brilliance with the risks he takes — he’s not turning the ball over but is making rare throws all over the field in creative ways.
What Mahomes is able to do to challenge conventional quarterbacking while not turning the ball over is why he’ll likely end his career as the greatest to ever play the position. The remarkable thing is this still isn’t the peak of his powers — he’s still only 25.
Mahomes looks ready for the playoffs — the Chiefs’ most important cog in the machine is playing the best football of his young career. Even if everything isn’t firing on all cylinders around him, the best player of the world is playing at a level that can elevate the rest of the team around him.
The touchdown that counted
The only TD of the day for Mahomes was excellent. Free play - Andy mentioned in his presser today that Mahomes works top down looking for the big play. He held on to give Kelce a chance.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 8, 2020
Mahomes throws this ball with someone grabbing his arm and it's still perfectly placed. pic.twitter.com/NNCwSCku93
Mahomes took advantage of a free play when Denver jumped offsides. This is a common occurrence these days for the Chiefs — they’re able to capitalize on free plays with aggressive shots down the field when they know they’re getting the flag. Andy Reid discussed in his Monday presser about their process when someone jumps on defense: “He’ll definitely take a peek at the deepest route and just work his way back down.”
Mahomes gives a deep route a chance here, holding on in the pocket to give Travis Kelce a chance at pay dirt. Speaking of holding on, Mahomes’ arm was being held onto while maneuvering in the pocket and delivering a perfect ball over a defender to Kelce coming clean on the corner route. A phenomenal play that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The touchdown that didn’t count
Wut. Mahomes flat foots this field throw to Hill. No hitch into a fifty yard throw? Stupid arm talent.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 8, 2020
Also, the ref waiting for Tyreek to signal touchdown then slowly raising his arms kills me. Wish they would've had a stare off. pic.twitter.com/MXTMi5PHVM
The arm talent on this throw is wild. On throws like this, you normally will see quarterbacks — even Mahomes — hitch up at the top of their drop to help gain momentum into a deep throw like this one. In this instance, Mahomes doesn’t hitch. He plants his foot at the top of his drop and drives a ball to the wide side of the field 50 yards in the air — perfectly into Tyreek Hill’s arms.
There are very few quarterbacks in this league that would be able to attempt a throw like this without any kind of hitch. He’s throwing without great momentum toward his target off his back foot, and it doesn’t matter. A perfectly-placed deep ball.
Stay to watch the referee wait to signal touchdown (and how slowly he does it) until Hill crosses the line — kills me.
We nearly had another classic 3rd and 15+ Mahomes moment on Sunday.
3rd and 20 and almost pulled it off.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 8, 2020
Mahomes and Kelce have a special connection. They're operating on the same wave length - especially out of structure. Mahomes steps up, Kelce breaks to space. Almost had it. Possibly tipped. pic.twitter.com/cOeRWeSgcj
The structure the Chiefs operate in on a free play carries over to situations when the play breaks down.
Andy Reid and his staff have built a structure — a set of rules — for situations like a free play or when Mahomes has to operate off schedule.
“Playing within the system, coach Reid and the offensive staff have done an unbelievable job of creating a structure around that,” said Kelce, “making it easier to communicate on the field while we’re playing instinctually to be in the right places. Another time was on the third down where the play broke down and I had a drop. Knowing that getting around that linebacker the ball was going to be right there.”
Broken plays like an offside or protection not holding up is organized chaos. There are rules to situations. A defender jumps offsides, maybe Mahomes checks for the outside receiver that was just running down the field as a clearout to get a receiver open underneath him. When it’s a scramble there are rules to the chaos. Normal convention might have Kelce working more laterally across the field with Mahomes but instead, he drifts upfield on this play to space. That normal convention can be challenged when you have some with the vision and arm talent of Mahomes.
The trust level built up between these two is why they’re such a dynamic duo. They’re so often on the same wavelength and that allows for lucrative opportunities like this one to materialize. It isn’t an accident — it took work. The play didn’t convert, but that there was an opportunity to attempt a play like this is significant.
Every throw in the book — and then some
Quarterbacks are lauded during the pre-draft process for being able to make every throw in the playbook. What about the ones that aren’t? Mahomes has more types of throws than any quarterback we’ve ever seen.
We've never seen someone with the ability to throw athletically the way Patrick Lavon Mahomes can. There really isn't a platform that Mahomes won't find a way to get a completion from. Someone at his feet and he can't get set? Not a problem at all. pic.twitter.com/tS1cTGVHvP— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 8, 2020
All due respect to the likes of Brett Favre, but Mahomes can get himself out of trouble differently than the other special arm talents we’ve seen. This is a throw with no discernible base to really operate from. With a defender closing, Mahomes can’t step into this throw at all. His hips and shoulders aren’t open to this throw across his body. The fact that he was able to see Kelce late working across the field against the pressure, then throw from that angle is wildly impressive. He continues to amaze — even on shorter completions like this.
Attempting (and executing!) a play like this on third-and-12 when you’re trying to close out the game is absurd.
Normal stuff out of the two minute warning when you're trying to ice the game on 3rd and 12. Sheesh.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 8, 2020
Big completion to keep the clock running. Big nine yards to make the field goal more manageable. pic.twitter.com/FiUbo52NUM
If this ball is incomplete, the Broncos have nearly two full minutes to work with and Reid might not have Harrison Butker attempt a field goal to extend the Chiefs lead to six points.
Mahomes gives Kelce a chance to help make a play by throwing the ball back into the field on a sprint out. Mahomes slows down to try and get the ball around safety Alijah Holder, who is closing in on the quarterback. The vision, arm talent and creativity to attempt this put the Chiefs in a much more manageable field goal position. Butker — even after a questionable delay of game penalty — extended the Chiefs’ lead and left the Broncos minimal time to mount a comeback.