By the end of the NFL’s regular season, oddsmakers figured that the Kansas City Chiefs’ superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes was the runaway favorite to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player for 2022.
As always, voting for the annual Associated Press award took place before the playoffs began — but in Mahomes’ two postseason games, the quarterback proved why he should be named the league’s best player.
While battling through an ankle sprain he suffered early in the 27-20 Divisional Round victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Mahomes completed 70% of his 73 pass attempts for 521 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, which was good for a passer rating of 108.4. Including the touchdowns, 34 of the quarterback’s 51 completions went for first downs.
While the Chiefs’ offense did not light up the scoreboard in either game, they got the job done — and Mahomes was the primary catalyst.
Let’s take a close look at how he did it.
Executing the opening script
In both playoff games, Mahomes made sure to come out firing. He led scoring drives to begin each matchup — one for a touchdown and the other for a field goal. In these two possessions, Mahomes completed nine of his 12 attempts for 92 yards and a touchdown.
I don't think we understand how well on our way we were to an all-time Mahomes game prior to his injury— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 24, 2023
He was feeling himself on the opening drive: peep the gun holstering after the 3rd clip pic.twitter.com/v6I0fuWQPp
Leading up to his injury against Jacksonville, Mahomes had only two incompletions — and was dealing. I counted three highlight-reel throws during the opening drive. He was playing confidently and methodically. That is demonstrated by the fact that he connected for no deep passes during these two opening possessions — and five different receivers caught his nine completions.
#Chiefs got exactly what they wanted on this opening drive 3rd down. Cincy shows & runs 1-man w/ a double on Kelce. Bates has no chance to get over the top of the wheel— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 31, 2023
Toney gets natural rub by alignment out of bunch. Great adjustment to the ball too, just doesn't finish it pic.twitter.com/gIAOBwbdu6
The only deep attempt he had on either drive came on this third down in the 23-20 AFC title victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. We see that the defense is in man coverage with only one safety deep; that’s a favorable look for wide receiver Kadarius Toney’s route. From the slot, he runs a wheel down the sideline, using an advantageous alignment (and great acceleration) to create the separation for a big play. Mahomes gives him a jump-ball opportunity, but Toney just can’t come down with it.
So after 11 patient pass attempts on two opening drives, Mahomes finally took a shot — but they call them “50/50 balls” for a reason.
In the snaps he took during these games, Mahomes didn’t get much help from the tunning backs. He handed off to them 34 times, but they gained only 90 yards — an average of 2.7 yards per rush. In contrast, when backup quarterback Chad Henne was on the field against the Jaguars, starting running back Isiah Pacheco racked up 57 yards on four carries.
On 4 checkdowns to Pacheco against Cincinnati, the #Chiefs gained 45 yards, moved the chains twice & set up conversions on the other 2 occassions— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) February 6, 2023
You love to see the rhythm in which 15 gets to these. Pacheco's timing/spacing can be shaky, but these all end up being important pic.twitter.com/eeuw9Ewmb6
Pacheco made up for it by being a reliable checkdown option for Mahomes — especially against the Bengals. On four postseason checkdown throws, Pacheco caught every one — gaining 45 yards and two first downs. (The other two completions eventually led to conversions, too).
Mahomes’ timing on these plays shows the patience and discipline with which he was playing — which differed from how he attacked the Bengals in the Week 13 matchup. When the Bengals dropped to cover up downfield throwing windows (like they love to do against Kansas City), Mahomes was more willing to trust a playmaker like Pacheco in space to make the best of those scenarios.
Even dealing with ankle, Mahomes bought time for important completions when he had to. Twice on the last TD drive v. JAX, then also on the MVS TD in AFCCG— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) February 6, 2023
Each of these, 15 has to come off his primary read and buy time before finding his secondary one. Streetball... pic.twitter.com/zEtdmZwnj7
This patient play — possibly forced by his injury — extended to the dropback passing game. When either defense was able to take away Mahomes’ primary reads, he fought through limited mobility to buy time and get to his secondary reads. On the touchdown to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the AFC Championship, he had to get all the way to his third read — all while evading pressure in a cluttered pocket.
Over his dead body
In key situations against Cincinnati, Mahomes ignored safeguards — whether they were about the game situation or own health.
A bum ankle couldn't stop Patrick Mahomes from going for the big-time plays— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) February 3, 2023
4th & 1. The sprint out is designed to hit Juju right past the sticks, who has the window. Yet, it feels like 15 was waiting for a 1v1 shot to Kelce in the EZ pic.twitter.com/aPplhPvc5K
On this crucial fourth-and-1, the play-call sends Mahomes to the right on a rollout. This gives him a window to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has a favorable cushion past the sticks. Yet Mahomes passes up on that opportunity to give tight end Travis Kelce a jump-ball opportunity in the end zone.
Mahomes may have been dissuaded from the initial read by Cincinnati’s pass rush. But in the latest episode of “The Franchise,” you can pick up on the possibility that right from the snap, Mahomes was looking for Kelce. If so, that was a bold decision — but one that gave Kansas City an important 13-3 lead.
The famous scramble was product of Cincy coverage— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) February 6, 2023
17 sec & no TO, CIN could zone up & force throw in field of play -- but they go press man to take away quick game. Double Kelce over middle
Both checkdowns are high risk to be tackled in bounds, Mahomes knows he has to do it pic.twitter.com/FXWenXsXHH
After almost two full games of avoiding the scrambles that have always been a significant part of his playoff performances, Mahomes put it all on the line for the team’s final offensive play in the AFC title game. But he had no choice — because Cincinnati had taken away opportunities that could have stopped the clock.
As we see here, rather than sit back in zone coverage — inviting an underneath pass — the Bengals play press-man coverage. This takes away quick throws anywhere on the field. They also send one safety to give Kelce double coverage. Finally, the Cincinnati defenders responsible for checkdowns are in great positions to tackle potential pass-catchers in bounds.
This leaves Mahomes no choice. He must take off for the sideline — not just to convert the third down, but also to stop the clock; Kansas City has no timeouts. The penalty he draws has nothing to do with the risk he took; it was simply his only option.
The bottom line
In the game against the Bengals, defensive tackle Chris Jones was the player of the game. Valdes-Scantling also stepped up in a big way. Rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson nabbed an interception not only in that game, but also against Jacksonville the week before.
There have been many factors that have led to Kansas City returning to the Super Bowl — but Mahomes’ elite balance of game management and playmaking has been the driving force behind these last two victories.