Early in the Kansas City Chiefs 23-20 overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers, the defending Super Bowl champions looked far from their namesake. The offense was held scoreless in the first quarter, there were dropped passes in crucial spots, and the Los Angeles defensive pressure disrupted the Chiefs passing attack.
The offensive line was shouldering public blame, the play-calling was even taking some critical review, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters in his post-game press conference that he was at fault for the slow start.
“Early in the game, I think I just wasn’t playing up to par,” Mahomes admitted after the Week 2 win. “There was stuff there, we had throws that I just wasn’t making the right reads or I was making bad throws. As the game went on, the defensive line is going to get through, they have great players over there. After I got hit a couple times, it kind of settled me back in.”
It took awhile to get settled in. The Chiefs were held to six points in the first half — the lowest amount in that scenario since the 2018 AFC championship. Mahomes’ best wide receiver — All-Pro Tyreek Hill — was completely shut out in the first half in the receiving game. He did see two targets, but neither was brought in.
After the game, Hill explained the lackluster start from his perspective — and pointed out players that were stepping up when the game was ugly.
“At first, the energy level wasn’t there,” Hill recalled. “We had to lean on a few guys to get us going. We had (wide receiver) Demarcus Robinson getting us going on the sideline, telling the wideouts to get going for the defense. We obviously had Pat getting us going, we had (tight end) [Travis] Kelce, we had a bunch of guys rallying and building energy for the offense, and it was great.”
Hill went on to share that his individual struggles might have come from the one big change that all Chiefs players were experiencing for the first time.
“Playing in a stadium with no fans is like the weirdest thing ever,” Hill contended. “It almost felt like a scrimmage, and it felt weird for me at first. That’s why the first quarter I didn’t feel like myself cause I’m a wideout, I’m a punt return specialist, I feed off the crowd that’s what I do.
“We just can’t shoot ourselves in the foot early on with penalties, with dropped passes from myself, just lack of effort. I’m going to speak for myself. I didn’t give second and third efforts blocking for [Clyde Edwards-Helaire] down the field. Was it there some plays? Yes, but I didn’t give it to them every play. We got to be better in those situations, cause blocking downfield is what creates those big plays for us.”
Tyreek shouldered some blame for early-game mistakes in his post-game presser. Cited "dropped passes"— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 21, 2020
Here's the first one that came to mind, first third down of the game #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/lJHdOisQi8
Hill referenced multiple dropped passes early on, but there was one that stood out. The above play was on the first third-down attempt of the day for the Chiefs offense. The throw was a little off-target, but Hill absolutely should have secured that catch.
Mahomes could have been thinking of this same skewed throw during his press conference, but he had a few other that probably stuck with him.
“I think I was so frustrated at the beginning of the game because I knew it was just me that was killing the team,” Mahomes claimed. “Guys were getting open, the line was giving me enough time but I wasn’t making the throws in the right spots. I take that upon myself, I have to find a way to start better, don’t put ourselves in holes like that so it’s not so hard at the end of the game.”
It was a tough battle coming down towards the end. Then Mahomes and Hill showed off their elite talents and chemistry. With 13 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Mahomes rolled out right on a second-down play to fire a throw more than 50 yards in the air to an outstretched Hill inside the 5-yard line. After tumbling to haul in the pass, Hill finished the 53-yard scoring play and tied set the Chiefs up to tie the game at 17.
It was a play that the offense tried to run previously in the game, but it couldn’t get the right look for it according to Mahomes.
“The best thing with these guys, when you have (wide receivers) Tyreek, Mecole [Hardman], [Demarcus Robinson] and Sammy [Watkins], if I throw the ball further then the defenders, then they’re going to get there,” Mahomes concluded with excitement. “That’s what I try to do, put it out there and let those guys make plays. It was a good throw but [Tyreek Hill] made a heck of a catch running over his shoulder like that with the way the ball was coming.”
“I kind of knew he was going to throw it,” Hill revealed. “I’m the primary receiver on that route. Pat does a good job just trusting us down the field, trusting us to be able to make a play on these [defensive backs], I was fortunate on the other end of it.”
Chiefs fans have gotten familiar with saying it all the time, but not many quarterbacks could have made the throw that traveled 50-plus yards in the air right into the arms of a wide receiver at full sprint. The man who caught the big pass had his own opinion on that very subject.
“It’s tough, Pat I feel like is in a lane of his own, Pat, probably Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. I’ll say them three,” Hill declared when asked who he thought could make that throw. “Me being fast and Pat having the arm strength, the accuracy and just the trust to even throw that Is just amazing to me. It was a great ball, he kind of overthrew me cause I had to lean forward a little bit, but it was a good ball.”
That final jab by Hill on the accuracy of the day’s biggest throw is a microcosm of why this team has been so successful. It’s all serious between the white lines, but the family atmosphere of subtle jabs and playful pokes keeps things loose in a team sport that never allows for a stress-free gameday.
That culture allows for a bad start to not develop into four quarters of ugly, unenergized play. Instead, it helps the Chiefs stay together, just in time to make the one play that sparks a victory.