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Chiefs challenging Patrick Mahomes when it comes to ‘hero ball’

NFL: Super Bowl LIV-San Francisco 49ers vs Kansas City Chiefs Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

It could be argued that Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has faced more adversity in five games of the 2021 season than he has in his three years as a starter leading into it — which articulates just how successful a start it’s been for the career of the 26-year-old.

But before beginning, let’s be clear about Mahomes’ adversity compared to others’ adversity. Mahomes leads the league with 16 touchdowns and in quarterback rating, is seventh in yards and has a top-10 passer rating. So this quarterback’s “struggles” are thus a different breed than those of some other quarterbacks.

But alas, let us talk about them. Mahomes entered the 2021 season having never thrown an interception in September — and that also came with a perfect career record during the month. September 2021 ended with three interceptions and two losses, and October has seen another three picks and another losing effort.

It has been a rough stretch in that regard for the quarterback — who, after Sunday’s 38-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills, told reporters he would have to go back and “evaluate” what he’s been doing. With that process having taken place, head coach Andy Reid addressed the media.

“Pat’s wired like a linebacker,” said Reid on Monday. “That’s his thinking. He wants to get after you every snap, so he tries to maximize each play. I think what he’s saying is there’s a time and place for that. Sometimes you can try so hard that you do something that you normally wouldn’t do. He realizes that scoring touchdowns is an important thing right now, and he’s going to try to do the best he can to do that. There’s a time and place where you got to pull back on some of those things and just take what’s given and go with it.”

Without saying it (and he never would), the head coach provided a window into the psyche of Mahomes. With the defense allowing a league-worst 32.6 points per game, Mahomes knows he needs to score touchdowns — not field goals — for the Chiefs to have a chance.

Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy calls that, “hero ball.”

“I think more than anything, when we talk about trying to be the hero, you know what I mean?” asked Bieniemy on Wednesday. “And you got to understand — Pat’s a competitive football player. He wants to just rip your soul all the time, and that’s what makes him special. But, sometimes, we just have to know when to say when. When am I doing too much? When am I effectively helping us as a team to be better? And so it’s just managing his emotions in making sure that we’re not taking a calculated risk when we don’t have to. That’s all. But the kid is who he is. We want Pat to be Pat, just like we want all of our guys to allow their personalities to show. We got a great group of guys, and they understand exactly what we want from them, and they know what’s expected of them.”

Reid further described how defenses are blitzing less and playing far more deep zone across the board, limiting what Mahomes can do with his live arm. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill went off for more than 185 yards in each of the Chiefs’ wins. In each of their three losses, he was held to under 65 yards.

The Chiefs are thus being forced to play a little more in the short-to-intermediate space.

“It’s something we worked on at the end of last year,” said Mahomes. “You started seeing defenses play over the top and letting us have the short gains, so that’s something we’ve tried to get better and better at. We’ve had good weeks at it, and we’ve had weeks like this last week (against the Bills) where we didn’t do so well at it. It’s about execution; it’s about taking what’s there, it’s about running the football, it’s about throwing short completions, and then once defenses have to come up because we’re showing we can do that, we’ll still be able to connect on those long plays.”

Knowing just how special Mahomes is, the Chiefs need to find a happy place directing him. That lands somewhere in the middle.

“It’s a delicate course that you take,” admitted Bieniemy. “Pat is very aware of the things he’s doing and not doing. He has a great self-awareness of who he is and how to go about things. The thing that I want our guys to do is just relax and understand that, ‘Hey, fellas. We’re going out there to do what we enjoy doing.’ Everybody does not have to be the hero each and every week and each and every play. Let’s just line up. Let’s go out there, be accountable to one another by focusing on the details to help you to be the best player, which is going to help the next man to be the best player he can be in that situation.”

Heading into Sunday’s game against the Washington Football Team, Mahomes seems to have received that message.

“I think you just tinker with things here and there,” he said. “You don’t want to lose yourself; you don’t want to lose the things that you’ve done so well for so long. But at the same time, I got to make sure I’m firm with my fundamentals, make sure I stay within the pocket and it’s the same thing every year when you see me get a little off, you got to go back to the basics and make sure I perfect those things. I think everything else will kind of come along with it.”