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Chiefs film review: How Patrick Mahomes earned MVP lead in close win over Titans

After one NFL MVP candidate lost on Sunday, another had to carry his team to a victory in overtime.

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs George Walker IV /

After Week 9 of the NFL season, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes stood atop many oddsmakers’ list of favorites to win the MVP award.

Yes... the performance of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen in their loss to the New York Jets played a role in that — but Mahomes earned his improved odds by willing the Chiefs to victory over the Tennessee Titans. Sunday’s 20-17 overtime win may not be the 40-point blowout that a lot of MVP statements are, but Kansas City’s victory was still all about Mahomes.

The Titans’ defense completely eliminated Kansas City’s running game — and also played very effective, physical coverage that made the Chiefs’ passing game more difficult. Our Nate Christensen broke down how Tennessee defended the Chiefs as well as any defense over the last two years.

Yet, Mahomes ended the game on top — with 509 total yards and heightened MVP buzz.

Here’s why Sunday night’s performance was so impressive:

Staying patient

Throughout the game, the Titans had physical coverage on tight end Travis Kelce, while locking up the Chiefs’ wide receivers on true pass patterns. Mahomes was only able to complete eight of the 15 throws he attempted 10 or more yards downfield.

It’s why Mahomes often threw so quickly after the snap on screens or sit routes over the middle. When Kansas City called longer-developing pass plays, Mahomes was often forced to check down or scramble. I admired his patience in these moments.

As we see in a few instances here, he keeps his eyes downfield, buys time in the pocket and patiently waits for a receiver to find a window where Mahomes can see him. Both Kelce and tight end Noah Gray work open — and Mahomes gets it to them for chunk gains.

Mahomes rarely forced a throw. While there was one long-shot attempt downfield that could be considered inadvisable, his only interception came when Kelce tipped a ball into the air. In a game with 78 dropbacks, there are a lot of opportunities to be impatient and force a throw — but Mahomes took what he could. It led to some sacks and stalled drives — but no game-changing turnovers.

One of the few downfield shots he did take led to the Chiefs’ first-half touchdown drive.

This isn’t a forced throw. Instead, it’s actually what the defense is allowing Mahomes to take: one of the two Titans’ safeties comes down to help cover Kelce, taking him away at the first-down marker. The other safety is on the opposite side of wide receiver Justin Watson, who runs a deep route down the sideline.

That gives Watson a one-on-one opportunity that is completed with Mahomes’ incredibly-well-placed throw. It allows Watson to quickly pivot to the ball — rather than stretch out or dive.

Creating completions

When the called play wasn’t producing an open target, Mahomes had to produce one himself by buying time in the scramble drill.

On these two plays, Mahomes produces a big gain — even though the Titans’ defense swarms to stop up Kansas City’s initial pass routes. Both times, Mahomes’ movement eventually gets him to a place where he has an opening to complete the pass and make a significant play.

The Titans were consistently taking away Mahomes’ first read — and often even his second read. That continued into overtime — but once again, the Chiefs’ quarterback found a way to make the necessary plays anyway.

Both of these plays come on third down — and both force Mahomes to make a play after his primary reads.

On the first play, the pocket management is significant; Mahomes shakes off the edge pressures and steps up past it. It gives him the angle and momentum to put juice on his throw, keeping the defender covering Kelce from adjusting to the ball in the air.

On the second play, the Chiefs’ typical roll-out pass for short yardage is completely covered — but Mahomes refuses to fail. He buys himself time and room — and then gives Gray a chance to make a play more than 20 yards downfield.

Decisive scrambling

One of Mahomes’ most underrated qualities has always been his scrambling ability. He utilizes it when he needs it the most: in games where defensive coverage suffocates his passing options. It was a big part of the Chiefs’ postseason win over the Buffalo Bills last year.

Against Tennessee, Mahomes totaled 63 yards on six scrambles — three of them resulting in either a first down or a touchdown. A fourth scramble led to the game-tying two-point conversion.

As we see in these plays, Mahomes makes the most of the space he gets by understanding the best time to scramble. As soon as he recognizes the blanket coverage, he accelerates downfield into the open space. One of these plays earned a conversion on third and long; the other ended with a fourth-quarter touchdown.

The impressive part is how efficiently Mahomes always scrambles; rarely does he scramble unnecessarily — or at the expense of a passing play. He uses his X-factor skill only when it is most needed.

The bottom line

The Titans’ defense did everything it could to hold down the Chiefs’ offense. There was no running game available to Kansas City — and there were throwing windows downfield only rarely.

Instead of playing into the Titans’ hands, Mahomes was patient. He took every inch he got — until it added up to 446 passing yards, 63 rushing yards and a victory.

It may not have been the flashiest game of his career, but the quarterback’s management of situations that didn’t give him many favorable looks is exactly why he’s the NFL’s best player.

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