With 16 games in the book and one to play, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was asked to name his greatest area of growth from the 2021 season.
In 2021, Mahomes faced more adversity than he has during any of his four years as starter — with opposing teams playing more double-high coverage and challenging him to work in the short-to-intermediate areas. Those looks required a new discipline from Mahomes, who made much of his NFL living on the deep ball heading into the year.
“I think the biggest area of growth is that I’ve just learned to be patient,” said Mahomes. “I’ve learned to take what’s there, take the underneath stuff, probably the most I’ve ever thrown to the running backs and stuff like that. I have such an aggressive nature and want to push the ball down the field, but defenses have forced me to learn how to drive the length of the field, and I think we’ve done a great job of that as the season’s gone on.
“We’ve made a lot of big drives happen and drove the length of the field, but we haven’t lost our explosiveness — and when defenses do present man coverage or safety middle zone coverage where they come down and give us a chance to throw it deep, I think we’re still hitting those. Finding that right balance, I think that’s been a big growth for me to learn to take what’s there but keep that aggressiveness.”
After a tough night against Denver — this week’s opponent — in Week 13, Mahomes has played much more efficiently in the last four weeks. He completed 65% of his passes in the Thursday night win over the Los Angeles Chargers and was 74% or higher in games against the Las Vegas Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.
Mahomes’ Pro Football Focus passing grades have increased steadily over the four weeks, and he has shown greater trust in the Chiefs’ offensive line.
Where has offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy seen his quarterback’s growth?
“Just making sure he’s taking what is given,” said Bieniemy. “I think he’s done a great job with that. And I think if you just look at the backs’ numbers, the receptions have shown you that he’s conscious of what’s taken place in the back end. Now he’s finding his outlets — and now, those guys can catch. They’re doing a better job of being in position for him to throw it. Now they’re there, they’re gaining his trust, and now those guys can get vertical after the catch.”
Darrel Williams leads all running backs in receptions with 44 catches for 442 yards, and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has 19 catches for 129 yards (63 catches for 571 yards total). After 16 games last year, the two combined for 54 catches for 413 yards.
Williams, who has been the lead back in six games this season due to Edwards-Helaire’s injuries, senses Mahomes’ growing confidence in them as they remain consistent.
“Just keeping doing what we doing,” said Williams. “Catching the ball, running our routes and just being available for Pat. We keep doing it. Each and every week, we’re getting better and better at it. Pat knows he can rely on us whenever nothing is there deep, he can always check it down to us.
“We’re going to be there whenever he needs us. We’re going to do whatever we need to help this team win.”
Mahomes and the Chiefs put together four touchdown drives in a row against the Bengals before punting on two of three possessions in the second half. With the defensive miscues and questionable officiating during the game, that offensive performance has been discussed less often this week — but just three points in the second half were certainly part of the problem.
Mahomes even acknowledged as much.
“We’ve played good football these last few weeks — and I still think we can be better,” he said. “I still think we’ve played great halves or great couple quarters, but we haven’t played the great full game yet, so I think that’ll be something we continue to work on. You want to be the best going into the playoffs, and I think offensively, we’ve gotten better and better as the season’s gone on.
“We’ve played against a lot of different defenses, so we’ll be ready for anything coming into this last week and into the playoffs.”
A reshaped Mahomes will continue that process in what is looking to be his last shot at a Vic Fangio Denver defense. More comfortable in his short game than ever, the quarterback has an opportunity to further boost his confidence before the games that really matter.