How many games have you seen in the past just like Sunday where you’re thinking, “here we go again” when the offense isn’t clicking and the turnovers start? A lot. In the past when the Chiefs found themselves in this type of situation, it used to add up to a loss and a heartbreaker at that. These are the type of games that championship level teams find a way to win and they eluded the Chiefs in the past. Not any more. The Chiefs have graduated to true Super Bowl threats because of Patrick Mahomes and his improvement as a quarterback.
As I said on ESPN Kansas City yesterday if Alex Smith had the stat-line Mahomes had on Sunday and led the game-winning touchdown drive we all would have been ecstatic. But because we as fans are so used to playing with a lead and watching Mahomes sling the ball all over the field and throw for touchdowns every game, the win felt a little deflating, to say the least. But as I re-watched this game, something filled me that wasn’t a deflating feeling in my stomach. It was optimism. This team gutted out a win when they didn’t play their best and they did it on both sides of the ball. Without that fumble return touchdown, this game probably doesn’t end the same way. But Mahomes grew as this game went along, and he was impressive in crunch time.
Offensively, this game started off as you would expect, the Chiefs were moving the ball down the field well. Mahomes was gashing the Lions with Deon Yelder and Travis Kelce, and then they stalled out in field goal range. That’s when we should have started to understand that this game wasn’t going to be like what we’ve seen in the first three games of the season. Harrison Butker missed a 36-yard field goal. From there on things got a little odd and the Chiefs offense didn’t look like the well-oiled machine we are used to.
Mecole Hardman is a rookie and still learning the playbook, and after discussing this play with J.J. Birden, we came to the conclusion that Hardman should have been running a deep corner route based on where the ball ended up. There is always the possibility that Watkins was supposed to end up there, but since he is the veteran receiver, I assume he is running the correct route. Ten yards into his route, Hardman gets hit which should have drawn a flag but didn’t. Then he cuts his route inside and Mahomes throws it to the deep right corner, even though he saw no receiver was home.
It’s an odd miscommunication in that Hardman may have run completely the wrong route after being hit, paired with Mahomes still throwing the ball when he never saw a receiver break to that spot, something he doesn’t normally do. Then I noticed that it wasn’t just receivers running to the wrong spot, but Mahomes missing some throws he typically makes, too.
There may be a little to nitpick on the route ran by, oddly enough, Hardman, but the fact remains that he was running clear from the corner and was wide open running across the field. Mahomes sees him running clear as well, and yes Erving is beat on this play but the pocket is clean as he readies his throw. This sails a bit too far from Hardman and over him, he tries to find the ball but he can’t make the adjustment in time.
This is a throw that Mahomes puts on the money 99% of the time, and he just missed it. Uncharacteristic? Sure. You don’t expect him to miss this type of throw on a third down, he has been automatic on these since day one, or so it seems. It’s also a reason the offense never seemed to be in rhythm, they couldn’t string together a lot of steady movement down the field throughout the game and it is in plays like this that you can see the oddity in the offense.
This isn’t to take away anything from the Lions, because they came into this game knowing exactly what they wanted to do with the Chiefs receivers and how they wanted to handle Mahomes. They executed a great game plan and really put a top on this offense that no defense this season could keep on them. They did it with physical play and man coverage.
The Lions went a little out of their typical defensive model and played much more two-deep safeties to prevent the big plays from this Chiefs offense, and it worked. Mahomes found little to no success in stretching the field or finding receivers open deep down the field. Keeping the receivers in front of them allowed the Lions to play more aggressive in the intermediate part of the field. Look at this play, no one is open when Mahomes needs to get rid of the ball, so he has to throw it away. Give the Lions their credit, because it is due.
Mitch Schwartz was beaten pretty quickly on this play, and that was an angle I didn’t expect to see when I watched the game over again. Erving struggling didn’t surprise me because it was bound to happen. He isn’t comfortable at tackle and his footwork shows it. Neither Erving nor Schwartz played very well, and while it may not have shown up in sacks allowed, it did force Mahomes to move before he wanted to and get rid of the ball before he was ready.
With all of the negative connotations surrounding this game for the Chiefs; the miscommunications, Mahomes not having his best day, the Lions suffocating the Chiefs receivers, and on top of all of that the fumbles that plagued the Chiefs, one thing remained consistent. The Chiefs were going to have a chance in this game. It was close the whole way, and even though the final score doesn’t reflect what the defense accomplished, this win wouldn’t have been possible without them. They kept the Chiefs in it in the third quarter when the fumbles came, so tip your hats to them for that. Then it all came down to Mahomes. This is what all quarterbacks dream about, having the ball in your hands with just over two minutes to go in the game and a chance to win. That’s what champions are made of, and what happened in that drive couldn’t have been scripted.
Last year the fourth and nine play made headlines all over the sports world because of the sheer impracticality of the throw that Mahomes makes against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Sunday, it was a fourth and eight where Mahomes showed understanding of the defense and that sometimes you need to hurt teams with your legs and not just your arm.
The Lions had this defended well, and all it took was one slip up to give Mahomes the green light. As Darrel Williams comes out of the backfield, the Lions had a linebacker to the left side of the formation to defend him, then the middle linebacker that was keeping Mahomes in the pocket also ran to Williams. That’s when Mahomes broke free and ran for 15 yards and a first down. He knew the defense was turned away to keep with the receivers and that one linebacker was keeping him in the pocket. He showed his poise, understanding, and growth as a quarterback, all in this one play.
Getting that first down gave the Chiefs all the momentum they would need to continue moving the ball on this game-winning drive. It didn’t hurt to have Travis Kelce find himself wide open thanks to a little improvisation from the quarterback, though.
Kelce was being manhandled at the end of the game because the defense knew that if anyone was going to find a way to get open, it was going to be Kelce. He is clearly out of gas during this play and once again gets bullied when he runs his route and then kind of waits a minute to get going. Mahomes sees open field to the right of the formation and acts like he’s about to run the ball, this pulls the linebacker closest to Kelce to the offensive line to defend Mahomes running the ball. This allows Kelce to get open up the seam and Mahomes finds him for an 18 yard gain.
Even though Kelce was tired, he was still able to put the moves on the Lions defender coming from his left and get free for more yards after the catch. Mahomes manipulates the linebacker with his attempt to run, which I believe was on purpose because of the previous play. A savvy play from the young quarterback.
The Chiefs would go on to punch the ball in with twenty seconds left in the game. Mahomes led the winning drive on an off day when their opponent played near-perfectly on defense and they still put up 27 points. That is something that we haven’t seen very often in the past. These circumstances don’t happen all that often and when they do you need a winner at quarterback to pull out the victory. Mahomes has ice in his veins and not only is he a winner but he wants to be in this type of position with the game on the line. He welcomes this type of challenge and adding all the troubles the team faced made it all the sweeter.
It’s called the clutch gene, and Mahomes has it in spades. He led multiple come-from-behind efforts in 2018, none more impressive than the AFC Championship game where he was able to orchestrate a comeback that gave the Chiefs the lead in the fourth quarter. We all know how it turned out, unfortunately, but you get the picture. This is what Chiefs Kingdom has been waiting years for and we are looking at it dead in the face. Don’t count on Mahomes having many games like this in the future, when it comes to his stats. He is too good for that to be a continuing trend and not many defenses have the personnel to keep the Chiefs receivers at bay like that.
Winning the game on Sunday should give all Chiefs fans a sense of optimism for the simple fact that when all things are working against them in the future, they have this experience to fall back on. Not every game is going to be perfect but as long as Mahomes is the quarterback of this team they will have a shot in every game they play. Mahomes is special and this kind of win shows it. He has the utmost trust in his players, no matter who it is and I love that about him. I’ll leave you with the second-best play of the day and it’s a great example of his trust.