As a longtime observer of the Kansas City Chiefs — and longtime believer in Patrick Mahomes’ talent — the best thing about The Mahomes Experience is not the touchdowns, the ridiculous throws or even his emergence into a bona fide super-duper star in 2018. It’s watching others be converted into believers every Sunday.
It’s a little like being a fan of a movie — say “John Wick,” for instance — then introducing it a year later to a friend who hasn’t seen it. You sit there and watch it with that friend, and take satisfaction from the enjoyment of every absurd, over-the-top kill delivered by a wooden Keanu Reeves. In a way, it’s like you’re experiencing Wick for the first time again, and man, is it glorious.
The football equivalent of that happened again Sunday, when the Chiefs held off the Baltimore Ravens 27-24 in overtime in an instant classic at Arrowhead Stadium. Save for one ugly interception, Mahomes was his usual magnificent self, delivering a host of absurd passes from different launch points with a combination of heat and accuracy that quickly went viral on Twitter.
One of them — a no-look throw — was so outrageous that it made an often-cynical colleague of mine send me a “HOLY S— MAHOMES IS AMAZING” text that was so out of character for him that it made me double-check that it was actually from him.
That’s what The Mahomes Experience is like, and every week he’s making new believers, even in his own city. Understand, for as good as the Chiefs have been this season —on Sunday they improved to 11-2 and are two wins from clinching the AFC’s top seed — many from their tortured fan base were freaking out late in the game, and for good reason.
The Chiefs’ regular-season record under Andy Reid since 2013 is 64-29 and yet, practically every season Reid has been here, Kansas City has unexpectedly lost a game in December that has portended a brutal playoff defeat only a month later. Consider the following:
In 2013, they lost at home to the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 before blowing a 28-point, second-half lead to, you guessed it, the Colts in the wild-card round.
In 2016, the Chiefs lost to Tennessee at home 19-17 because they couldn’t stop the run and the offense couldn’t make enough dynamic passing plays. A month later, they lost at home in the playoffs to Pittsburgh in a game where Le’Veon Bell ran for what felt like 595 yards and a rattled Alex Smith couldn’t find open receivers.
And finally in 2017, the Chiefs lost to a New York Jets team that finished 5-11 because they couldn’t put away New York after taking an early 14-0 lead. In the wild-card round — once again at home — they blew a 21-3 second-half lead to the Titans, effectively ending the Smith era.
So yeah, when the Chiefs’ much-maligned defense couldn’t stop a physical-grind-it-out Ravens squad from running the ball Sunday, and Mahomes threw a crucial third-quarter interception that helped the Ravens eventually take a 24-17 fourth-quarter lead, fans were ready to unleash on Reid for everything from his in-game clock management to his decision to retain lightning-rod defensive coordinator Bob Sutton this offseason.
And then suddenly something — actually, someone — happened.
Mahomes, the should-be MVP.
“People would hang their head after an interception like that … he doesn’t do that, he just fixes the problem, and he’ll tell me, ‘Dial it up again, I’ll take care of it,’” Reid said. “[He’s] different that way. You appreciate it.”
With the Chiefs down seven and facing a fourth-and-9 at their own 40-yard line against the league’s No. 1 defense, Mahomes proceeded to uncork a crossbody heave over the middle, all while drifting to his right, to star receiver Tyreek Hill for a 48-yard gain that gave the Chiefs life.
In a season full of highlight-reel throws that can’t be recreated in “Madden,” this was perhaps the most ridiculous of all.
“He’d be the best centerfielder of all time by the way he tracks the ball,” Mahomes said of Hill.
Maybe that’s true. Here’s what is also true: There are only a handful of quarterbacks over the past 25 years who could have made that play, guys with a combination of rare gumption, elusiveness and arm talent. Guys with the last names of Favre, Rodgers, Elway. Maybe a few more.
So when Mahomes ended the drive with a short touchdown pass to help tie the game at 24 a few moments later, it felt a little like destiny. And when Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker later missed a game-winning field goal as time expired in regulation — you don’t even want to know the ugly playoff memories that stirred up in Kansas City — there was still a sense of, “It’s OK, No. 15 can still do it.”
And guess what? He did. The Chiefs won the overtime coin toss, and Mahomes guided them deep into Ravens territory, even getting a lucky break when tackle Eric Fisher jumped on his fumble (the great ones seem to catch those all the time). Butker redeemed himself with a go-ahead field goal, the defense shut down the Ravens and the Chiefs held on for a victory that clinched a playoff berth and positioned them well for the top seed, especially after New England’s loss on Sunday.
By the end of the game, Mahomes’ stat line told (most of) the story. In a game the Chiefs almost-certainly would have lost in past years, Mahomes completed 35 of 53 passes for 377 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and another handful of viral highlights that should go into a badass NFL Films montage.
Against a Ravens defense that mixes up coverages and brings exotic blitzes — “I haven’t seen some of those things they were doing,” Mahomes admitted afterward — the Chiefs needed every bit of his brilliance as their once-great running game has been muted in recent weeks due to the Kareem Hunt saga.
The lack of dynamism in the running game following the release of Hunt doesn’t figure to be solved until next year’s NFL draft, so it’s safe to say that if the Chiefs hold onto the AFC’s top seed without Hunt, it will be because Mahomes — who is on pace to throw for 53 touchdowns this season, only two off Peyton Manning’s all-time single season record — produces the same magic in their upcoming games against the Chargers, Seahawks and Raiders.
“This game was a big test for him, and I like the way he handled it,” Reid said. “He didn’t hang his head, he wasn’t perfect, but he hung in there and battled.”
That’s what the Chiefs needed from the 23-year-old, a man who is now on the verge of having the great storyline he needs — of leading his team through the Hunt drama — to go along with the stats to get the MVP nod.
In Kansas City, The Mahomes Experience has been deeper, and more meaningful, than that. All season long, Mahomes has exorcised various demons, and for Chiefs fans who had a sickening sense of déjà vu Sunday, the era of expecting the worst is officially over.
Mahomes killed that period, with every pinpoint throw, every “wow” moment in a Sunday séance that not only vanquished the Bad Omen December Loss that has been a Kansas City tradition since 2013, but also earned the Chiefs’ own Baba Yaga — or boogeyman, in “John Wick” parlance — absolver more believers in his MVP cause.
And for those of us who were in on The Patrick Mahomes Experience from the ground floor, it couldn’t be more fun to watch.
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