Young quarterbacks, even the talented ones, tend to be most easily described by their shortcomings. This kid has a great arm, but no pocket presence; this kid can run, but his deep ball is wobbly; this kid can fit a throw anywhere, but he can’t read a defense. We’re now four games into Patrick Mahomes’s career as an NFL starter, and he has yet to show any limitations.
Last night’s 27-23 win over the Broncos—in which Mahomes threw for 304 yards, tossed one touchdown, and ran for another—marked the worst statistical performance of the young quarterback’s season. That’s the kind of crazy sentence you only get to write about a guy who spent the first three games of the season throwing 13 combined touchdowns. But make no mistake, this win featured what was undoubtedly the most impressive performance of Mahomes’s young career.
The Broncos came into the game determined not to let Mahomes embarrass them, and they went at him with a scheme straight out of the How To Rattle A Young Quarterback manual. Denver’s defense threw all sorts of disguised looks at Mahomes, and pressured him with a series of unorthodox blitz packages. It all worked, up to a point, because the Broncos consistently got into the Chiefs’ backfield and collapsed Mahomes’s pocket. And yet they only sacked Mahomes once, because he just kept stepping up, rolling out, and evading blitzers any way he could before rocketing balls to open receiver. His highlight reel from this game is stuffed with the sort of free-flowing, improvisational quarterback play that could have been lifted straight from a Texas high school game.
Mahomes was running for his life all night, and yet it felt like he never threw a single bad pass. This was particularly true in the fourth quarter, during which Mahomes completed 13 of his 16 passes and led the Chiefs on two late touchdown drives. Several of those passes were the sort of long, do-or-die completions that we’re only used to seeing the very best quarterbacks in the league complete.
A football game is a series of actions that are entirely dependent on at least a half-dozen other actions. What Mahomes showed last night is that he is one of the rare players who can circumvent that dependence when he needs to, and plot the course of the game with his own hand. You see this happening when he uses his legs and awareness to nullify a squad of free blitzers, or uses his absurd arm strength to fit a ball into a shrinking window and erase blanket coverage. You see it in every hare-brained moment of creative genius, left-handed or otherwise, that yanks his team out of the pit. The list of NFL players who can effect and ultimately decide a game in such individual fashion isn’t long. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Khalil Mack, and J.J. Watt are on it.
In the first three games of the season, Mahomes showed that he’s the ideal quarterback to run Kansas City’s brilliant offensive system; in the fourth game he showed that he’s also the guy who can save the day when the system malfunctions a bit. It’s nice to have a quarterback who can stand comfortably in the pocket and throw 60-yard deep balls to Tyreek Hill, but finding one who can perform the sort of magic tricks Mahomes did last night is a franchise-altering development. Four games doesn’t make a career, and it’s always wise to be cautious when anointing or writing off new quarterbacks, but Mahomes appears to truly have it. All of it.