That changed on Sunday night in Week 10.
The Chiefs exploded for 41 points, a season-high 516 total yards, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes had his first 400-yard performance since Week 11 of 2020 in their blowout of the Las Vegas Raiders.
It was easy to see that Mahomes was playing more comfortably and more confidently. After entering on a stretch of play that featured poor pocket presence and an unwillingness to take what the defense is giving, the Chiefs’ quarterback looked to have it all tuned up for the division rival.
He and the rest of the offense seemingly “got their swagger back” with the help of another Chiefs quarterback.
“Shane Buechele came up to me and showed me this video of this kid saying ‘I got my swagger back’,” Mahomes shared with reporters in his post-game press conference. “That was something that was kind of my motto this week, and I think the whole team kind of got that swag back and we’re going to keep this thing rolling.”
The best part about Mahomes feeling better about his individual confidence and swagger is that it positively affects the rest of the unit. That was evident from their first scoring drive — the second possession of the game.
3rd&5. Mahomes in rhythm to Kelce on intermediate out. Hill's outside vertical takes CB deep, & RB in flat attracts LB towards LOS to open throwing window— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 15, 2021
Wylie handles Crosby, RB chip forces Ngakoue to go wide, gets off-balance/slips. Mahomes drop at 8 yds helps pic.twitter.com/rmcIM2bA0A
On third-and-5, Mahomes took advantage of Travis Kelce not dealing with press coverage on his intermediate, out-breaking route. He calmly took his drop, hitched up from a good depth, and fired an accurate pass on time to Kelce. His timing allows the throwing window to be clear; the underneath defender has moved towards the running back in the flat, while the cornerback is deepened with the wide receiver’s vertical route.
The depth of his drop allows left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to seal defensive end Yannick Ngakoue from winning around the outside edge.
Speaking of pass protection, it succeeded in slowing down one of the league’s most effective pass-rushing units this season. The Chiefs’ offensive line didn’t allow a single sack; the linemen played well, but they also benefitted from Mahomes’ timing of his release.
The pass protection wasn't perfect on Sunday, but it didn't matter with Mahomes playing in rhythym and on time within the offense— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 16, 2021
The good timing on both of these releases negates edge pressure pic.twitter.com/1ueY2IINZ2
On this first play, edge rusher Maxx Crosby uses a nasty spin move to completely lose right tackle Andrew Wylie. However, it had no impact on the play because Mahomes let it rip as soon as he reached the top of his dropback. It’s a well-run play, even if wide receiver Tyreek Hill couldn’t come down with a contested catch.
Mahomes constantly got the ball out on time, not holding onto it too long and allowing pressure to cave in on him. The relationship between him and his offensive tackles is continually growing with each game.
“Wylie came in and battled the entire game against Crosby,” Mahomes pointed out. “I thought Orlando did a great job against Yannick; those are two great players... As the season has gone on, you come together as a unit, and they get an understanding of how I do my drops — because I’m obviously different from other guys in this league.”
It wasn’t just the plays where his first read was open that Mahomes looked to play in rhythm.
It was good to see Mahomes comfortably go thru multiple reads when he had to, all while standing tall in the pocket— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 16, 2021
Quickly, Mahomes goes from 1st read (out of screen) to 2nd ready (Pringle) to 3rd read (Mecole) who takes the open pass for a big gain #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/vUZmNvo7gH
Threatening in Raiders’ territory, Mahomes doesn’t force anything; in fact, he does the opposite. You see Mahomes quickly go from his first read to his second read, then to his third read — which happens to be wide receiver Mecole Hardman on the run over the middle. A quick toss to him turns into 27 yards.
It’s a great play by Hardman to create that much separation, and a great job by Mahomes of finding the receiver that’s truly open and can make the most of this particular play.
“Guys were getting open,” Mahomes noted. “Guys were beating double teams, guys were getting open against zone coverages, and I was getting the ball to them.”
Even when players weren’t open, Mahomes would appropriately hit his check down within the timing of the play — not too soon but not too late. That little detail helped running back Darrel Williams to have an incredibly impactful performance, totaling nine catches and over 100 receiving yards.
“You saw Darrel and these backs making plays out in space,” Mahomes reflected. “Whenever they’re catching the ball like that out of the backfield and adding another option, it’s definitely a utility I can use in this offense.”
Not everything could be on time and in rhythm, though; the Raiders still tried to disrupt the passing attack by getting physical with receivers — specifically Kelce — off the snap.
Kelce was still dealing with physical coverage against the Raiders, Mahomes' pocket presence allowed it not to matter— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 16, 2021
Timing is disrupted on Kelce's route, so Mahomes has to buy a little extra time to allow him to get open. The subtle few steps to the left gives him that time pic.twitter.com/ijs5lKDGQg
This play, Kelce has to fight through physical man coverage as he has all season. It delays his release and makes him late to the spot where Mahomes expects him to be at a specific time of the play. In the last month, Mahomes had abandoned this play once he saw the physicality and felt the pressure. On this snap, Mahomes moves a few steps to his left to buy time in the pocket, keeps his eyes downfield, and gets it to Kelce once he is separated.
The bottom line
As much as we all want to say everything is fine now, it will be important to see this performance expand into a stretch of weeks rather than just one game. A division rival that the Chiefs have historically dominated could have been temporary relief from lousy play this season.
That said, the level of comfort and confidence displayed by Mahomes was precisely how the offense continues playing well moving forward. If that performance kickstarts him into playing that comfortably within the offense every week, what felt like a lost season could just be getting started.