Speaking before Wednesday’s practice, quarterback Patrick Mahomes gave a shout-out to tight end Travis Kelce, who has registered 303 receiving yards during Kansas City’s last two games.
“I think defenses and defensive coordinators are doing their best to cover him,” observed Mahomes. “There’s a reason he’s Travis Kelce: he finds a way to get himself open — versus man, versus zone, versus everything. I’m just glad he’s on my team; I’ll say that.”
Another player Mahomes appears to be glad to have on his team is rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice, who has been coming on strong during his debut season. He’s totaled more than 50 receiving yards in each of the team’s last two contests — and has two receiving touchdowns over the last three.
Mahomes expects Rice to continue expanding his role.
“He has great feel,” Mahomes said of the former SMU wideout. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Obviously, you see how explosive he is — and you see the physical talent — but he has a good understanding of when he’s open and how to stay open.
“He’s starting to recognize coverages more and more. [NFL] coverages are a little more complex than they [are] in college, but you can tell he’s starting to learn more — and getting himself open. I think we’ll continue to work with that — and he’ll continue to find ways to get himself open.”
The adjustments Rice made for Sunday’s second-quarter touchdown showed Mahomes how the second-round draft pick is quickly adjusting to the pro game.
“[Rice] was the primary [receiver] originally,” Mahomes recalled of the play, “but we had another option if they played a two-high shell: [that] was Kadarius Toney.
“They did a good job of covering that. I kind of reset it back — and was just looking for a guy to have an outlet to throw a checkdown to — and just saw [Rice] pull up in that window perfectly.
“He definitely wasn’t supposed to be open, but he did a good job of recognizing the coverage and knowing where to be — at the right time.”
A familiar face also made a late contribution to the win. Only days after returning to the Chiefs through a trade with the New York Jets, wide receiver Mecole Hardman set up the team’s final scoring drive with a monster punt return — and a crucial third-down catch on the drive that followed.
“I think he brings another spark of energy,” Mahomes said of Hardman. “You all see Mecole. He always has a smile on his face — and for him to be there in that locker room? You can just feel the energy.
“Obviously, [he has] the speed and he has familiarity with the offense, so other guys who are younger can learn from him — because he’s been here for a couple [of] years now. Even though he left, he’s back [soon] enough that he can pick up the stuff that we’ve added in pretty quickly.”
In Sunday’s third quarter, Mahomes scrambled for 23 yards on a third-and-16 to extend a drive. While scrambling is not his first instinct, the league’s best quarterback will continue taking the yards in front of him — as long as defenses play in fear of his arm.
“I think we do a great job,” he explained, “First, [by] having the play-calls to go against what the defense is presenting to us. Whenever we do extend, I think guys do a great job of getting themselves open — and whenever I can run for it, I try to run for it.”
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid credits offensive coordinator Matt Nagy for the Chiefs’ effectiveness on long third downs.
“Matt takes care of all that,” Reid told reporters on Wednesday. “He does a great job with it. Then obviously, Pat has a huge part of that — I mean, he’s special in that area [when he’s] throwing the ball... The receivers and offensive linemen did a good job, but the scheme has been great and the players have been great.”
Mahomes also had an explanation for Kansas City’s success in dire situations.
“I think it’s a mentality,” he offered. “The coaches preach how we’re going to execute. The guys go out there and do it — and then we have belief that we’re going to make it happen [in] some way.
“It all starts up front. The offensive line [on] third down [has] to block against great pass rushers when their ears are pinned back and they want to get to the quarterback. They’ve done a great job of that.
“The guys, whenever I’ve extended [the play], have been able to make plays happen. You’ve got to have the mentality to really execute it during practice — so you can execute it during the game.”
Although several of the long third downs have been converted with Mahomes’ feet, the face of the league knows to be careful.
“I’m always looking to throw first,” Mahomes reassured his listeners, “knowing that the guys are faster than me — and they can make the big plays happen. Whenever I do run, I run scared. [I] try to get out of bounds past the first down as fast as possible.”