Patrick Mahomes’ brilliance is hard to explain, even harder to exaggerate

Oliver Connolly
The Guardian

Only Aaron Rodgers can rival the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback’s athleticism and precision. We are witnessing the start of an all-time great career

<span class="element-image__caption"><a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/30123/" data-ylk="slk:Patrick Mahomes">Patrick Mahomes</a> now has 41 touchdown passes for the season. </span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Ed Zurga/AP</span>
Patrick Mahomes now has 41 touchdown passes for the season. Photograph: Ed Zurga/AP

Half human, half amazing, Patrick Mahomes cemented himself as the league’s MVP on a wild, wacky NFL Sunday. Mahomes overcame a talented Baltimore defense, as the Chiefs beat the Ravens 27-24 to wrap up a spot in the playoffs.

Mahomes’ brilliance is hard to explain, even harder to exaggerate. He is bending the boundaries of what is plausible on the football field. Only Aaron Rodgers is able to match the first-year starter’s blend of athleticism, precision and playmaking magic. Nobody has a more impressive arm than Mahomes. Baltimore entered Sunday as the fourth-best defense in the league by DVOA. Mahomes promptly set to work dissecting it, conjuring all kinds of magic, including no-look passes that had more than a whiff of sorcery:

That’s not an optical illusion. That’s something he practiced in college and has perfected in the pros. How do you even think about defending that? Simple: you don’t.

Mahomes-MVP detractors have pointed to the Chiefs’ offensive system and the quarterback’s all-star cast. Andy Reid’s brand of organized disorder has indeed put Mahomes in excellent spots. Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt, prior to his release, made the whole scheme sing. Sunday was different. Hunt is no longer with the team, released after a video surfaced of him pushing then kicking a woman at a Cleveland hotel. His replacement, Spencer Ware, along with Hill, missed time against the Ravens due to injury.

Baltimore forced KC to play a different kind of game. On defense, they came after Mahomes. He looked bamboozled at times by the Raven’s varied fronts and pressure packages. Baltimore blitzed defenders from anywhere and everywhere. Mahomes had a hard time figuring out who was coming, and his offensive line was overwhelmed.

It would have been easy for Mahomes to fold, but that’s never been his way. He continued to drive the Chiefs down the field, showing the kind of poise we’ve become accustomed to, as he led a pair of potential game-winning drives. When the team needed him, he put them on his back:

There is nobody, not even Rodgers, who would have the audacity and arm arrogance to attempt that throw with the game on the line. In one play, Mahomes showcased what makes him special: his intelligence; throwing from awkward arm angles; throwing off-platform; raw, unadulterated arm strength; and athleticism. We are witnessing the start of an all-time great career.

Video of the week

The Dolphins last-second miracle had a little bit of everything. The highlight: Rob Gronkowski flailing around as the Patriots’ deep safety. The Hard Rock Stadium miracle (we need a better, non-corporate, name) will join the likes of Marino’s fake spike, the Holy Roller, and the Miracle at the Meadowlands as the greatest plays to end a regular season game.

Not content with that, the Football Gods gave us more lateral madness later in the day. The Steelers hit a perfect hook-and-ladder with time winding down in Oakland to move the team into field goal position, looking to tie the game:

Kicker Chris Boswell slipped on the subsequent kick. Football is silly.

MVP of the week

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers. Kittle almost broke the single-game tight end record for receiving yards in a half. He posted seven catches for 210-yards and a touchdown in the first half of the Niners win over the Broncos. Kittle fell five yards short of breaking Shannon Sharpe’s record after he was shutout in the second half.

Stat of the week

How about a pair of Saquon Barkley gems? Barkley now has four touchdown runs of 50 or more yards this season. The Giants had three touchdown runs of 50 or more yards in the previous 10 seasons. His latest, a 78-yard beauty:

No Giants rookie has ever scored more touchdowns than Barkley – 13. And he still has three games to go.

Quote of the week

“I want to sincerely apologize for my inappropriate and unacceptable tweets. I was a 16-year-old kid in high school who clearly made bad choices. Those words do not reflect who I am today.” – Baltimore Ravens fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Richard after racist tweets he posted in 2011 and 2012 were unearthed.

The Richard incident comes the same week as Heisman trophy winner Kyler Murray apologized for homophobic tweets he posted when he was 14, and after Kevin Hart withdrew from the Oscars after complaints about homophobic tweets he posted in 2014.

How does this keep happening? Any agent who doesn’t immediately scrub the social media history of their clients – particularly those posted when said athlete/celebrity was a high schooler – is derelict in duty. That should be day-one of the pre-draft process. The positive: in outing their racism, homophobia and/or misogyny in a public setting, the ignorant can be challenged and, hopefully, educated.

Elsewhere around the league

<span class="element-image__caption">Amari Cooper has helped transform the Cowboys’ season.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Ron Jenkins/AP</span>
Amari Cooper has helped transform the Cowboys’ season. Photograph: Ron Jenkins/AP

- We’ve seen some brilliant offense this season but the Bears showed defense can still win you games after they smothered the Rams on Sunday Night Football. They picked off Jared Goff four times as they won 15-6 – and the Rams won’t relish facing them again in the playoffs.

- Packers interim coach Joe Philbin used both his challenges in the first 83 seconds of his debut. Both rulings stood. Welcome back, coach. At least he scored a comfortable win over the Falcons, 34-20.

- Fun fact: Christian McCaffrey, Weeks 1-6: 1 TD. Christian McCaffrey, Weeks 7-14: 12 TD. The Panthers all-everything weapon is more than empty calories. At this point, he is the Panthers offense.

- When was the last time an in-season moved re-vitalized an entire franchise like Dallas’ acquisition of Amari Cooper? Cooper had another big game against Philadelphia, catching 10 passes for 217-yards and three touchdowns. He’s brought some juice to a Cowboys offense that was pedestrian before his arrival. The entire team has responded.

- Dallas winning on a should-be interception against the Eagles, tipped into the hands of Cooper, is the perfect microcosm of the NFC East this season.

- In an era where we get to feast on quarterback play – the passing game being king – the Ravens run-only offense is a refreshing side dish. Baltimore’s offense is limited with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, but it’s much more fun. The Ravens pushed the Chiefs to the brink thanks to the offenses ability to control the clock and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. Jackson brings an electricity to the offense, he should keep the starting quarterback job even when Joe Flacco is cleared to return.

- Houston’s nine-game win streak came to an end in Indianapolis. The Texans have played in nine one-score games this season and entered the week 11th in overall DVOA. They’re closer to a .500 team than their record indicates.

- Here is the stat line from Washington starting quarterback Mark Sanchez against the Giants: 6/14, 38-yards, 0 touchdowns, two interceptions. It was almost impossibly bad. But, hey, at least he knows the offense, right? Colin Kaepernick had a better passer rating sat on his sofa. Washington’s decision not to even reach out to Kaepernick remains indefensible.

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