“I think a lot of guys, most of us in the locker room, we all appreciate each other so approaching us and having hard conversations, it’s not really difficult for us,” said Mathieu, one of six team captains. “I think we’ve got a team that’s really focused on football and focused on winning. I feel like some of the other conversations we’ve had, it’s been fairly easy.
“It’s an open floor,” Mathieu added. “All of us respect each other, appreciate each other, and I think that’s the start. That’s how you continue to grow.”
Here’s one (very public) example of this “open floor.” In June, shortly after George Floyd’s death, two of the Chiefs’ captains — Mahomes and Mathieu — appeared in a video with other NFL stars demanding the league acknowledge that “Black Lives Matter” (which the NFL eventually did).
Mahomes is the reigning Super Bowl MVP and is widely regarded as the NFL’s next generational superstar. He co-signed on the movement, which was especially significant.
“I think the biggest thing for me was, I think it was just time for action for myself, it was time for me to say something, it was time for me to go into the community and do what I can to make the world a better place,” Mahomes said this week, when asked in retrospect why he appeared in the video. “I think that was built up of me getting more and more confidence of being able to play and be myself and show myself and people respecting my platform and what I say. So I wanted to make sure I did whatever I thought was best to help the world out and try to make everybody feel equal and everybody feel like they can achieve their dreams.”
In fact, it happens rarely. But Mahomes is Kansas City’s force multiplier—no deficit is too big and no distance is too far. The Chiefs have earned a reputation for mounting comebacks, and what’s a third-and-long conversion if not a comeback shrunk to fit into a single offensive drive?
Mahomes became Kansas City’s full-time starting quarterback in 2018. Since then, the Chiefs have been the best team in the NFL at converting plays of third-and-15-plus yards. They get a fresh set of downs or a touchdown on 22 percent of those tries. (The second- and third-best teams in that category in that span, somewhat funnily, are the Patriots and the Buccaneers.) On third down with 10-plus yards to go, Kansas City ranks second in the NFL in the past three seasons having converted 26 percent of those attempts.
“It’s just something fun, totally unrelated to football that we can do, you know, before the game to decompress,” he said, adding that quarterback Patrick Mahomes has dropped in on the now-weekly tradition.
Center Austin Reiter believes the group will bring “50 or 60” packs for this trip to Tampa.
“It reminds me of being a little kid,” Reiter said Thursday. “It’s fun. And, you know, with the quarantine deal and everything, we can’t go out and do anything. So it’s a nice outlet.”
Elite burst off the line of scrimmage
What makes Hill so difficult to defend? It starts with his ability to go from 0 to 10 miles per hour after the ball is snapped. Using Next Gen Stats player tracking data, we can measure a route runner’s speed within one second of the snap as a representation of initial burst.
Much like a cheetah can go from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds — holding the title as fastest cat in the animal kingdom — Hill, who unsurprisingly has embraced the nickname ”Cheetah,” is the only receiver in the NFL who can consistently go from 0 to 10 mph in less than one second. Hill’s average top speed within the first second of a route (10.19 mph) is faster than any route runner with at least 200 routes this season (and the only route runner over 10 mph). The average wideout reaches an average top speed of 8.76 mph within one second of a route.
“His confidence is through the roof,” West says. “The stuff that he tries? And attempts? It’s different. No. People don’t do that. Now, you see guys doing no-look passes and all this stuff because he already did it. Now, guys can do it and nobody will say, ‘You’re an idiot.’ So, he took that factor out. He doesn’t play by the books.”
He’s writing his own book.
“He is,” West adds, “creating something different. He’s doing stuff no other quarterback has ever done.”
Because as batshit bonkers as these throws appear, it’s all by design. Mahomes set the whole Seattle play up with that pump to start. He thrives in the chaos because, to him, it’s not chaos at all. It’s a beautifully controlled abandon. Hence, his insane interception rate of 1.4 percent. What appears to be improvisation is, in reality, completely calculated.
Each head fake. Each shoulder shimmy. It’s all part of a larger design in his mind.
In seeing off the Bills he leapfrogged Chuck Noll for tied-fourth most playoffs win in NFL coaching history with 17 alongside Joe Gibbs, putting him behind only Don Shula (19), Tom Landry (20) and Bill Belichick (31). Suddenly his third-most 14 playoff defeats demand less attention.
The conviction and urgency of the Chiefs’ fourth-down conversion to beat Cleveland contrasted where Reid had struggled to get over the line in the past.
In February 2005’s Super Bowl XXXIX defeat to the Patriots, the Eagles forced a three-and-out to get the ball back while trailing 21-14 with just under six minutes to play, before taking 12 plays to gain 49 yards as the drive ended in a too-little-too-late 30-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to Greg Lewis. McNabb’s three interceptions on the day were defining, and the conclusion to the game anything but the Reid the NFL knows today.
3. Brady steals a late lead, but Mahomes hands Chiefs second straight title
The closer this game gets to kicking off, the more difficult it becomes to pick against Brady. Just think about it: If ever he were to prove the naysayers (all three of them) wrong in a Super Bowl, wouldn’t it be at age 43, while matched up against the consensus best QB in the league in Mahomes? He’d prove, once and for all, that he reigns supreme — even against the next generation’s closest thing to Brady. It helps that the Chiefs are missing two key starters up front. And yet ... Kansas City is still just too good. While Brady will undoubtedly keep this close and likely take a late lead to nearly claim a seventh ring, Mahomes and Co. will not roll over anywhere nearly as easily as Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay did throughout the postseason. Crown ‘em again!
As an offensive lineman accustomed to toiling in anonymity, he’s not driven by publicity or attention. He’s equal parts proud and embarrassed by the honors and accolades he’s received because, as a medical doctor, he couldn’t justify playing football during a global pandemic: “I gotta be able to look at myself 10 years from now when I’m going to be a physician and be like, ‘I made the right decision.’ “
Best prop picks
Patrick Mahomes total passing yards: Under 327.5 (-115). Mahomes has topped 330 yards in just seven of his 17 games this season and has gone under that total in four straight, including both postseason games. He hasn’t thrown for more than 325 yards in any of his seven career postseason games.
Travis Kelce anytime touchdown: Yes (-162). Kelce scores a touchdown in 70% of our simulations, and with a price of -162 needing a player to have a 62% chance of scoring a touchdown, the Yes is a quality value play.
Around the NFL
In the latest signal that Drew Brees is preparing to retire after 20 seasons, the New Orleans Saints quarterback has agreed to reduce his 2021 salary from $25 million to the veterans minimum of $1.075 million, a source confirmed to ESPN on Friday.
The move will free up nearly $24 million in salary-cap space for a Saints team that was projected to begin the offseason close to $100 million over the cap.
Jon Gruden seemed pretty smitten with Wentz back when the quarterback came in for Gruden’s QB Camp segment that used to be on ESPN. Back in 2017, Gruden told high school football players that Wentz is the quarterback that they should emulate.
Former Eagles preseason color analyst and Philly native Mike Mayock, now the Raiders’ general manager, has also previously spoken highly of Wentz. Mayock ranked Wentz as the No. 1 overall prospect — not just quarterback — in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The Raiders have Derek Carr under contract through 2022 but they can trade him this offseason to clear over $19.6 million in cap space. Carr had the NFL’s ninth-highest passer rating last year but the Raiders have only gone 19-29 with him as their starter under Gruden. Wentz (turns 29 in December) is a little younger than Carr (turns 30 in March) and the Raiders might think he has a higher ceiling.
The Eagles would probably prefer to trade Wentz to the AFC if they can.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
Jones vividly remembered a moment with fellow defensive lineman Frank Clark that he shared for the first time on Thursday.
“You know it’s crazy... during the game, they have Frank Clark mic’d up, and the Chiefs never put this out,” said Jones. “I looked at Frank around the third quarter. I’m like, ‘Man, this might be our last time playing together.’”
At the time, Jones did not have a contract in place for 2021 — and there had been a good deal of chatter as to whether Kansas City wanted him back on a new deal. 31.0 sacks in three seasons meant that he would deserve quite the pay-raise.