During the Kansas City Chiefs’ 31-17 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 12, rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice came alive with the best performance of his young career. The SMU product caught eight passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.
The outing marked Rice’s first time going over 100 receiving yards as a pro and his fifth score of the season.
On Monday, Chiefs head coach coined the term “Patrick Friendly” to describe the connection Rice showed with quarterback Patrick Mahomes against the Raiders.
In the locker room on Thursday, the rookie attempted to define Reid’s new addition to the NFL’s lexicon.
“Just being able to think like a quarterback,” Rice identified, “and knowing where the soft spots are on the field so you can get open for them.”
Such skills are not new to Rice, but he knows that pairing with the NFL’s most recognizable player puts them on a higher profile display.
“Personally,” he continued, “I feel like I’ve always been able to think how I’ve been thinking. Since I have such a great quarterback, it kind of works well matching with his game. They call it ‘Patrick Friendly,’ but I’ve always had a good feel for the zones. It just so happens that I get to do it with Pat. He knows where I need to be, and I know where I need to be.”
Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy spoke to the media before practice on Thursday. The veteran coach believes Rice is now at a point in the season where he has run the team’s plays enough to start putting his own spin on them.
“He’s probably come along right where we need him to,” stated Nagy. “No wide receiver, no quarterback, no player in general wants to play like a robot. When you are learning the offense, you probably feel like you are because you’re trying to understand. When you look at a playbook and you see a line in the playbook, you want to run it like that.
“The more and more you start running plays, you have less robot to you — and he’s just having more plays which allows him to say, ‘Okay hey, I’ve run this play seven times, and now I can put my little feel to it.’”
Nagy admits that Rice would not have been trusted to make some of Sunday’s big plays earlier in the season.
“Probably not right away early in the season,” the coach confirmed, “because we didn’t know what he could do. But now you have more volume and more investment in seeing what he’s doing...He’s playing more. He’s getting more reps, and with that comes more trust and more experience. So, you just kind of put it all together.”
Rice is putting it together in spite of Reid’s offense being notoriously difficult for rookies to learn.
“I’ve said this going back to training camp,” Nagy reiterated, “we joke about him drinking water through a fire hydrant. I still — every day when I’m watching him grow and what he’s doing — start with that. ‘Where do you line up? Where are you supposed to go?’ If you can eliminate that thinking part, No. 1, that’s a start. Within the play in routes, there’s specific routes where a lot of it’s more zone where there is a feel. He knows how to run routes versus zone, but how do you match that with what the defense is doing — which can be unique and different every week?”
Early in the fourth quarter Sunday, Rice took a short pass from Mahomes for a 39-yard touchdown. He was most proud of the opportunity to showcase his speed.
“I relied on my speed,” he recalled, “and I just ran full speed with the ball in my hands.”
Now Kansas City’s second-leading receiver on the season behind star tight end Travis Kelce, Rice hopes there are more games like Sunday to be had down the stretch.
“It felt great, obviously, to show everybody that I could do that,” said Rice. “We’ve got a lot more season left. So, there should be many more games like that.”
More top performances require leaving his breakout game firmly in the past.
“It starts this week,” Rice declared. “Just getting out there at practice [and] basically just putting the game I just had behind me. It was a great game, but there are many more games to play. We’ve just got to keep moving forward and keep progressing.”