Instead of writing this on Monday, I wanted to wait until we saw Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs head into Denver for their Monday night football contest. I’m thrilled I waited because I want to talk about what I saw Monday night in Denver between two bitter rivals.
Pat Mahomes has officially arrived. That’s obvious now. Last season he played well in Denver for a Week 17 matchup against a Broncos team that wasn’t trying all. Then, Chiefs traded Alex Smith to Washington in early February, clearing the way for Mahomes to be the full-time quarterback. We all knew he had the arm and the skills to make him an above-average starter, but questions still lingered about his ability to make the transition from his college air raid offense to the Andy Reid’s West Coast offense.
Reports out of St. Joseph, Missouri, during training camp focused on multiple interceptions each day, enough to worry some folks. I checked in into these reports, and, while true, the interceptions were nothing to worry about. Mahomes was being aggressive and Reid was throwing so much at him that it led to mix ups with his teammates on the receiving end. In the preseason, Mahomes looked right on schedule and ready for his 2018 debut in Los Angeles against the Chargers, but questions still lingered about his readiness for this offense and his ability to perform in pressure situations.
All Mahomes did in the first three weeks of the season was throw for 13 touchdowns, no interceptions, complete 67 percent of his passes for 896 yards. Mahomes looks like a seasoned veteran before the snap; he’s never caught off guard by a defense.
He lead the No. 1 scoring offense to wins against the Chargers and Steelers on the road, and the 49ers at home. But, despite his roaring start, the Chiefs were playing from ahead and their offense had almost no issues. It looked too easy. Was that something the Chiefs could sustain throughout the season?
The Broncos presented issues for the Chiefs we hadn’t seen yet.
For starters, their defense is drastically better than anything the Chiefs had seen so far. They can rush the passer, stop the run, and pester the receivers. Second, this game was in a hostile road environment, unlike the previous two road games. Chargers games often feel like away games for the home team, and while Pittsburgh fans love their team with a passion, it’s not terribly loud there. Third, this game had the potential to force the Chiefs to play from behind and battle through some offensive slow spots, something we hadn’t seen yet.
We got all the answers we needed in three hours on Monday night.
The Chiefs offense was not clicking in the first half. The Broncos were harassing the Chiefs wideouts and tight end Travis Kelce, who just didn’t look right for the three quarters. Denver’s defense did a fabulous job of disguising pressures and confusing the Chiefs blockers.
The noise in Denver and lack of communication upfront, which hadn’t been an issue so far this season, led to some hectic plays for the offense. Mahomes often had to go through all his progressions, which he didn’t need to do in the first three weeks, and when he got to his final option, that guy usually was blanketed.
The first half ended with the Chiefs down, 13-10. They averaged 5.25 yards per play. Mahomes was 7-for-15 and they had only converted on 33 percent of third downs.
Mahomes’ biggest play of the game
I tweeted at half time that the second half would show if Mahomes and the offense could adjust and make plays to win the game. We know with the Chiefs defense, which did just enough to give them a chance, wasn’t going to win the game for them.
The third quarter went just OK for the Chiefs offense. They only scored a field goal and started the fourth quarter down, 20-13. Denver promptly added another field goal early in the fourth quarter to go up, 23-13.
Time for Mahomes to shine and that’s exactly what he did. He led a six-minute drive down the field that ended with a Kelce touchdown. People will rightfully focus on the left-handed pass on the following drive as his best play of the night, but the third-and-16 throw on the run to the right, thrown slightly across his body to Tyreek Hill for 15 yards was cold-blooded. That’s the type of play and throw that sets apart the good quarterbacks and the great quarterbacks.
The left handed pass by Mahomes will rightfully get attention but this 3rd and 16 pass by Mahomes is cold blooded and makes him elite. This helped them win. But beyond the throw, Mahomes knows where the free rusher is coming and how to avoid him. Big boy stuff pic.twitter.com/StNi9FDekP— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) October 2, 2018
Also, notice what Mahomes does pre-snap and how he understands where the free rusher is coming from. Next-level stuff from the young kid.
Eventually the Chiefs scored on that drive and the defense got a stop. The Chiefs offense got the ball back with 4:35 left and needed to go 60 yards to win the game. We all know how special that left-handed push pass to Hill was, but again, not to diminish that play, what Mahomes did later in that drive was impressive.
It’s second-and-30. Mahomes steps up and out of the pocket to the right. Then, he completed a 23-yard pass to Robinson. On the following play, he calmly rolled to the right again, and found Harris, who can magically catch the ball this season, for a long gain and a first down. The rest is history. Chiefs go to 4-0.
Mahomes answered every question we had about him last night. Can he lead a team from behind? Check. Can Mahomes play well when things aren’t going well? Check. Can Mahomes lead the Chiefs on the road in a hostile environment? Check. Can Mahomes take apart a great NFL defense? Check.
Everything we wanted to see from Mahomes, we saw it on Monday night.