The Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 1 34-20 win over the Houston Texans did not feature as many explosive plays or incredible highlights as football fans are used to since quarterback Patrick Mahomes became the starter in Kansas City. Instead, the victorious offense was methodical and patient — continuing to do what was working and keeping the ball away from the Texans’ offense.
The Chiefs had only two less rushing attempts than passes, did not complete a pass for 20 or more yards and had possession for nearly 10 more minutes than Houston — including a 16-play, 91-yard drive in the second quarter — where the Chiefs ran eight times in a span of 10 plays at one point.
Mahomes has had better statistical performances than the 211 yards and three touchdowns he accumulated on 24 of 32 passing — but his veteran backups reminded him that he still played really well.
“(Reserve quarterbacks) Chad [Henne] and Matt [Moore] both said it was one of the best games I’ve played because I actually took the check-downs and didn’t try to force it down the field when it wasn’t there,” Mahomes revealed during his Wednesday press conference. “It’s something that I’ve learned from those veteran guys, I’ve learned from coach Reid: all of us want to go for the big shot, the touchdown pass every single time, but if defenses are going to play us back in coverage, I’m going to take the stuff underneath and let the guys make plays, find ways to score and find ways to win football games.”
The gunslinger label that Mahomes attracted as a draft prospect still describes his play as a thrower, but that label is usually associated with recklessness and over-aggression. Week 1 was further proof that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has tamed Mahomes’ aggressive nature effectively.
“It was just more reading the feel of the game,” Mahomes recalled. “When the defense is doing a great job of getting stops... Instead of trying to force that deep shot, I used the guys underneath it to move the ball down the field and score. It’s going to be times here and there where I need to take the deep shot.”
Mahomes is continuing to learn and understand when to unleash the long throws. Part of that is going back in the game film and recognizing the plays where the deep shot was overlooked.
“There was a couple in the game that I missed,” Mahomes acknowledged. “The one to Tyreek [Hill] early in the game, we ended up getting the first down but maybe [there was] a chance to hit him on a big play. Then the one to Kelce down the sideline, where I threw the check down just a little too early. There was times where I could have taken that shot, I just got to know when and where to do it, and try not to miss whenever I get the opportunity.”
Mahomes referenced a few plays where he didn't take the deep shot when he maybe could have— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 16, 2020
Here's the first, on the initial third down of the game (no all-22 STILL). Hill's manned up with a one-high safety to the right. The right call to go with original play design pic.twitter.com/u8aRQqIuze
This is the play Mahomes initially referenced: the first third down of the game for the Chiefs’ offense. The play design — a swing pass to the running back — worked the way it was supposed to, but Mahomes recognized Hill being man-covered with only one high safety to help over the top.
“I hit the guy for a first down on third down during the first drive of the game so you just want to keep the drive going,” Mahomes began. “But whenever you get those matchups — especially with Tyreek who is usually double covered — you want to make sure you go out there and attack it.”
The second play Mahomes mentions is a missed opportunity to tight end Travis Kelce in the third quarter on a vertical route down the left sideline.
“The play to Kelce I think was one where I hit the check down and we got six yards, but he was probably [scoring] a touchdown if I would have just given him a chance to make a play,” Mahomes recalled.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was on the receiving end of six plays that resulted in a first down. He is noticing the maturation of Mahomes’ game.
“He’s a guy that knows the game, knows the coverages, and knows where to go with the ball,” Watkins told reporters on Wednesday. “If he sees something open, why not just throw it and get the ball off. Pat loves the big plays, but I think now he’s growing up and being that elite quarterback that says ‘ahh, let me just check it down and move to the next play,’ and that’s a special player we have on our team.”
Mahomes only attempted two deep passes (of 20 yards or more downfield) in the Week 1 contest, proof that the Texans defense was not giving him the opportunity to be aggressive with throws down the field. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid didn’t have many chances to show his aggression either — but when he was backed up on his own 34-yard line on fourth down in the first quarter, he took his shot.
“I just felt like we needed to do that there, and I thought we had a good play, so we ended up doing it.” Reid stated on the successful fourth-down conversion. “I’m not going to tell you that we do that every week, but we’re going to try to stay as aggressive as we can on fourth-down. We’ve been pretty good at that over the years. I just felt that was a subjective decision on my part, right or wrong… I just felt in my gut that was the right thing to do.”
The aggressive nature of Mahomes rose to the surface when he was asked about attempting to convert fourth-down plays.
“Coach [Reid] puts us in those situations so whenever he calls the plays, we know exactly what we need to do and we know how to go out there and execute. If it was up to me, I’d want to go for it every single time,” Mahomes admitted.
Fans likely agree with Mahomes’ desire to try and convert every fourth-down attempt, but that isn’t exactly a winning strategy. Andy Reid — who is six wins away from entering the top five of all-time winningest NFL coaches — knows how to win. His savvy, creative play-calling counteracts Mahomes’ aggressiveness enough to creative a very effective offensive attack.
By now, it is well known the Chiefs can blow the doors off of a defense. But Mahomes is becoming more and more comfortable with taking every inch that a defensive game plan gives him, too.