On the initial drive, he led the way on executing a well-designed opening script for a touchdown — and followed that up with a field-goal possession that was driven by a few good throws.
But for his first-half production, that was it.
After a three-and-out on the third drive, Mahomes held onto the ball too long in a cluttered pocket early in the fourth possession — allowing Chargers’ defensive end Joey Bosa to force a fumble and turnover.
Out of halftime, the Chiefs benefitted from a 30-yard pass-interference penalty to advance into Chargers’ territory — but still had to settle for a field goal. The next two drives ended with Mahomes throwing it into the turf on fourth-and-goal — and then throwing an interception that directly led to a what could have been a back-breaking Los Angeles touchdown.
At that dismal point of the fourth quarter, he had only 213 passing yards, two turnovers and no touchdowns. But by the end of the overtime victory, Mahomes had racked up 410 yards and three touchdowns.
The comeback was made possible by great playmakers like wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce — but when Kansas City needed it most, Mahomes summoned his instinctual, natural ability to make a play by any means necessary. His performance in the fourth quarter and overtime was a reminder of how special he really is.
Correcting his own mistakes mid-play
After finding a wide-open Kelce for a 69-yard gain — and then executing a well-designed pass to Hill for a score — Mahomes and the Chiefs had narrowed the Chargers’ lead to 21-19. They attempted a two-point conversion to tie the game — and to add to the dramatics, Mahomes himself turned up the difficulty of the play.
15 talked about it post game, but this 2pt attempt succeeded despite him passing up 3 different open options— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 20, 2021
Mecole has the angle, then he could've went to CEH, then he comes back and looks to an open Hill -- yet still holds it, finally finding CEH breaking open #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/2H8PdAcN02
Mahomes’ initial read appears to be wide receiver Mecole Hardman — who breaks wide open in the flat for a possible score — but Mahomes passes it up. He progresses to the back side — where Hill is streaking open — but still retains the ball even as he cocks it back a few times. Keeping his eyes downfield as he avoids a pass rusher, a running Mahomes finally throws it across his body, hitting Clyde Edwards-Helaire — who had broken into an open area of the end zone — right on his hands.
Mahomes had jumbled the play so much that the eventual receiver wasn’t even supposed to be an option.
“I think Mecole, Travis, and Tyreek were all open, and I didn’t throw it to any of them,” Mahomes told reporters in his post-game press conference. “Then Clyde — who was supposed to be blocking — actually ran and caught it. It’s one of those, on film, where Coach is going to be like, ‘What were you seeing,’ and I was like, ‘I saw them all open. I just for some reason didn’t throw it.’”
Turning an easy score into a difficult score — but a score nonetheless — is vintage Mahomes.
Awareness while scrambling at full speed
On a third-and-long late in the fourth quarter, Mahomes made it a point of emphasis to avoid rushers while keeping his eyes downfield.
Love how strict 15 is here keeping eyes downfield as he steps up from Bosa's pressure— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 20, 2021
Sees Hill over the middle, doesn't trust the throwing window/pocket, bounces out knowing Hill will come with him, checks if anyone's trailing, then makes throwing at a sprint look easy pic.twitter.com/pe4hWAkjdb
Bosa closes the edge down, forcing Mahomes to step up. His eyes stay up and downfield, locating both Hill and Kelce in different places — and going different directions — in the middle of the field. Mahomes quickly recognizes Hill as the better option for a third-and-10 conversion — but it’s a tight throwing window, so he’d have to quickly reset, stand and deliver in a quickly-collapsing pocket.
So instead, Mahomes bounces his scramble outside, knowing Hill will follow his path. Before setting to throw, he takes a split second to look back and make sure no one’s trailing him — and then as Hill clears away from the clutter in the middle of the field, fires a perfect pass on the run.
The 15-87 connection certainly appeared to click again in LA— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 20, 2021
After 32-yard scramble, Mahomes tries same escape route for a TD, but spy LB cuts him off
Kelce anticipates 15 scrambling right, makes a nice move to create leverage, and a perfect, low & away throw scores the TD pic.twitter.com/woBdN4cp8P
On this red-zone play that followed Mahomes’ 32-yard rush in the fourth quarter, the quarterback gets greedy; he wants to once again use his legs. The pocket breaks the same way — but this time, a spy linebacker cuts him off at the line of scrimmage.
Mahomes doesn’t realize it until too late, so he scrambles right — and then away — from the chasing linebacker. As soon he sees Mahomes starting to break the pocket, Kelce begins to set himself into a route towards the sideline in which he has leverage on his defender. Touchdown Kansas City.
On this play, the natural chemistry and timing between these two has one of its best moments in a generally-tough season; not only is Kelce able to make a move — getting himself open in his quarterback’s line of vision — Mahomes places the ball perfectly: low and away, allowing Kelce to fall into the pass and prevent the defender from contesting it.
Arrogant arm talent
The game went into overtime — in which the Chiefs got the ball first and never looked back. The hyper-confidence that Mahomes has in his arm allowed him to will a play into success.
Just flat-out confidence in your arm, great timing, & pin-point accuracy in OT— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 20, 2021
Any later (or softer) of a throw, and the flat defender - who read 15's locked-in eyes all the way - closes in and picks it off.
Throw is low and in stride, allowing 87 to catch & get upfield quick pic.twitter.com/4mmHgHEjSn
On second-and-10, a flood pass concept gives Mahomes a window to throw to Kelce on a 10-yard out route. The running back’s route in the flat is supposed to hold the flat defender, preventing him from defending Kelce.
Mahomes doesn’t use eye manipulation at all; he locks into Kelce the whole way. The flat defender reads this — but Mahomes’ timing, placement and velocity combine to neutralize the defender’s bead on the pass.
The placement also allows Kelce to catch it in stride and continue running upfield for a total of 27 yards. A few plays later, the two once again hook up for the game-winning walkoff score.
The bottom line
In 2021, defenses have tried their best to take away the best parts of Mahomes’ game: making throws out of structure and completing passes downfield. This strategy has largely worked. But against the Chargers — whether it was by finding scrambling room or throwing windows — he took exactly what the defense gave him.
Mahomes then trusted his natural abilities to get it done — because he’s an incredibly talented player who has supreme confidence in the elite talent he possesses.