For fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, it never feels right to blame a play, a game — or really, anything — on quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The superstar has twice won both the Super Bowl and the league’s MVP award — and throughout his seven-year career, he has rarely been held down for any significant stretch.
That is... until this season. The Chiefs are 2-4 since the bye week, scoring 20 or more points just twice over those six games. The latest letdown — a 20-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Day — felt like the ugliest showing from the offense. It featured four sacks, two important failures on fourth down and two turnovers that Las Vegas returned for touchdowns.
Mahomes was involved in both disastrous giveaways. Somehow, he was on the receiving end of a botched handoff — and on his next play, threw the interception that flipped the game on its head.
While they were the biggest, they were just two of many miscues on Monday. The quarterback wore the blame on Wednesday.
“You have to be critical with yourself,” proclaimed Mahomes in his press conference. “You have to be true to what’s on the film — and what’s happening. A lot of people would make excuses. That’s why they don’t take that next step or become better because of it. When you look at the film — and you made a lot of mistakes that you can’t make in this league if you want to have success — you have to learn from them and get better from them.
“If you look at it and try to make an excuse for why something happened — or it’s not your fault because this [thing] happened — that’s when stuff snowballs. If you look at the film and say, ‘I have to be better here. I have to get better footwork. I have to work the pocket better and get the ball out of my hands when I need to,’ then you can be better the next week.”
On Christmas, Mahomes was under duress for much of the time. According to PFF, the Raiders generated pressure on 46% of the dropbacks Mahomes took against them — excluding screen passes.
The pass protection had a forgettable day, including the shakiest performance of rookie Wanya Morris’ three starts. In his film review, Mahomes saw things he believes he could use to help negate pressure.
“There are little things with the footwork,” Mahomes reflected. “Anytime you see me drifting backwards in the pocket, that’s never good for the team. That is something that goes back to my Texas Tech days, where I get in these old habits of trying to make a big play happen... Towards the end of the game, you saw that: I was drifting, and maybe looking at the defensive line.
“That stuff has got me in trouble before, so you just learn from that stuff and try to get back to my footwork and fundamentals. If I can do that — and let the offense work for me — I can have success.”
Reviewing the second half of the game, it didn’t appear that Mahomes was consistently hanging his offensive tackles out to dry with bad pocket positioning.
Mahomes today to reporters:— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 27, 2023
“Me drifting backwards in the pocket, that’s never good for the team... where I get in these old habits of trying to make a big play happen... towards the end of the game, you saw that"
Here are the best examples I found from the 2nd half #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/nG3glUQzh8
However, this clip shows one sack (with holding calls) that may be the result of Mahomes getting to a strong 10 yards on his drop, allowing the edge rushers to more easily cave in.
In the other two plays, Mahomes appears to pass up completions to extend the play — but in both cases, his escape of the pocket is warranted. There is real pressure coming from the defense.
Mahomes thinks that a shorter drop — or a faster step-up in the pocket — could negate the pressure.
“There were times when the pocket was clean — and [then] I was drifting back,” Mahomes explained. “That invites the rush to be even better.”
But Mahomes believes his pass protection improved after the game’s rocky start; the team’s first three drives featured two sacks and resulted in minus 10 total yards.
“I honestly thought the offensive line stepped up to the challenge as the game went on,” recalled Mahomes. “Obviously, after the first few drives, you saw me talking to them. I just challenged those guys to be better — and they were.
“Then it’s on me. If I’m going to challenge them to be better, I have to be better within the pocket. I was proud of how those guys responded throughout the middle parts of that game — and towards the end of it — but I have to trust those guys as much as I talk. That’s on me to be better and better as games go on — to not drift and do too much.”
The gunslinger is being hard on himself with regard to his pocket presence — but still, when he does have a clean dropback, big completions aren’t coming. Mahomes thinks many factors are playing into that — including his own lack of discipline on certain pass attempts.
“There were times where throws were there and I didn’t make them,” he pointed out. “There were times [when] I went through my reads — and maybe didn’t get to the last one. That is the stuff I have to be better at. If I’m better at that, it will make the whole offense better.”
While this self-criticism is necessary for the offense’s leader, he is certainly not the only reason the offense has hit such a rough spot. The accumulation of mistakes from his supporting cast has unquestionably affected his play, too.
Just the same, elite franchise quarterbacks must sometimes overcome these circumstances — and by working hard to maximize his own play, Mahomes hopes to do exactly that.