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Pocket presence, footwork and timing: Patrick Mahomes explains his struggles

The Kansas City quarterback had a bad game on Sunday — and on Thursday, he gave details about what went wrong.

Kansas City Chiefs v Tennessee Titans Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In his nine seasons as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Andy Reid always makes sure to emphasize that he holds the most responsibility when the team loses, often saying that it “starts with him” and that “he has to be better.”

Whether he deserves the blame or not, he publicly owns it — but never gives many details about what he needs to do better. That was once again the case after the Chiefs’ 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

But quarterback Patrick Mahomes did. In remarks immediately after the game, he didn’t shy away from being self-critical. On Thursday — after more time to review his performance — he shared more about how his struggles have negatively impacted the team.

“I have to find a way to play better so our offense can get going,” Mahomes declared to reporters during his weekly press conference.

“It’s stuff that I’ve always had to work on — and I kind of lose sometimes times during the season. That’s hanging in the pocket, working on my footwork, staying on time — that’s stuff that I have to work on every year. You see it get me [in] certain games every single year — and it’s stuff I have to really go back, learn from, and be better at.”

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t a cookie-cutter answer. It’s Mahomes identifying three things about his performance that weren’t good — and admitting that he has struggled to maintain those specific skills so far season. He said that he knows pressing is only making the game harder on him — and the offense.

“There were times where I could’ve stepped and found a soft spot in the pocket — where I got out of there and tried to make things happen,” Mahomes recalled. “Whenever we don’t get going as an offense, it’s because I’m doing little things like that. We have guys on the team to make plays happen every single drive — but I have to make sure I’m executing at a high level so those guys can have those opportunities.”

Mahomes isn’t just open about his struggles with the media. He also wants his teammates to hold him accountable.

“You can just watch the tape,” he pointed out. “There were plays with guys open, there were plays where we had matchups downfield that I didn’t hit. .. I told [my teammates], ‘I have to be better.’”

“That’s how Pat operates,” Reid told reporters on Thursday. “He’s not going to hide or shy away from anything. If there’s a problem, he’s going to attack it — and work to fix it.”

Even though these bad habits have sometimes surfaced in each of his three seasons as the team’s starter, Mahomes has been able to correct them enough to lead the Chiefs to an AFC Championship appearance in each of them. His ‘gunslinger mentality’ allows him to continue attacking — and not let failures change how he plays.

It reminded Reid of another quarterback he used to coach: Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre.

“He was just wired that way,” Reid said of Favre. “You knew he was going to power through it and keep firing, and things would work out okay ... one thing they have in common is that they are very competitive guys.”

Like Favre did at many points in his career, Mahomes has struggled with interceptions this season. He now leads the league with nine — and a decent chunk of those have occurred after bad decisions he made.

So while his overaggressiveness has hurt him, it’s also what has made him so great when he is on a roll. To maximize his talent, Mahomes needs to find a balance.

“Obviously, I don’t want to turn the ball over,” he said, “but I’ll never be afraid to throw it to the guys and give them a chance to make plays. You kind of get in a rhythm of going short pass, short pass, short pass — and you eliminate something before actually seeing it.

“I think that’s something I did this last week: I was trying to get the offense going with short passes. There was a time that I could’ve taken a shot, but I didn’t give it a chance because I was so focused in on them not letting us have it.”

For Mahomes, it’s a mental struggle. He knows how to maneuver a pocket with clean footwork, he knows how to hit his first read within the timing of the play — and he knows that he is missing opportunities. He just isn’t executing these things right now — but that doesn’t mean he has suddenly lost those abilities.

It’s about confidence — and whether he wants to admit it or not, he appears to lack it for either himself, his teammates or the play designs. Boosting his confidence with a big game or two in the coming weeks could be all he needs to get back on track — but the way the team has been playing, that’s easier said than done.

Still... Mahomes and his teammates have no choice. If the Chiefs want to return to form as an AFC contender, their quarterback needs to play up to the ceiling of his abilities.