At 9:17 p.m. Friday, with 6 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first half of the Chiefs’ exhibition opener against the San Francisco 49ers, No. 15 jogged onto the field.
There were no cheers, at least not immediately.
It took the Arrowhead Stadium crowd a second to process what was happening. For the first time in 34 years, a first-round rookie quarterback had taken the field for their Kansas City Chiefs, and really, it didn’t matter that it was the preseason, or that the result of the game — a 27-17 San Francisco win — was irrelevant.
When the crowd noticed Patrick Mahomes in the game, there was rousing — but not quite rambunctious — applause. It was finally time to see what the kid could do.
And in a game where he managed to impress Chiefs coach Andy Reid — “I thought he had a good night, Reid later said — they would not be disappointed.
Operating out of the shotgun — his primary offensive formation in college at Texas Tech — Mahomes received his first snap, looked to his left and uncorked a deep ball down the right sideline to receiver Demarcus Robinson, who hauled it in for a 41-yard gain.
The play was called back on a holding call against left tackle Isaiah Battle, but that didn’t matter either. Kansas City, finally, had a real, live glimpse of the tantalizing talent that prompted the Chiefs to surrender a 2018 first-round pick to move up 17 spots and select Mahomes in May.
“He made some nice reads, nice throws,” Reid said. “Started off like gangbusters, even though we got it called back.”
Mahomes had more to show, though. The bomb was a crowd-pleaser, sure, but his best play came in the third quarter, when, with the Chiefs facing a second-and-1 at the 49ers’ 1-yard line, Mahomes received the snap from under center, executed a play-action fake and started drifting to his right.
The 49ers started flowing with him, as defenders tend to do when a quarterback starts running toward the sideline. While still on the move, Mahomes pointed toward the middle of the field with his left finger, took a few more strides toward the sideline and uncorked a jump throw across his body to his favorite target in camp, receiver Marcus Kemp, who had drifted to the soft spot in the defense that Mahomes pointed to.
“He just kind of moved around and made it happen,” Reid said of Mahomes. “That was him.”
It was a great throw, for sure. Too high for linebacker Sean Porter, who was positioned in front of the receiver and tried to deflect it, but just high enough for Kemp, who leaped to haul it in with both hands. Maybe it gets intercepted against a first-string defense. But it wasn’t on this night.
“He’ll get you the ball,” Kemp said. “He’ll get you the ball no matter where you are.”
Mahomes has made this kind of throw often during training camp. Over the last three weeks, he has often been at his best on the move, trying to make a play. It’s his creativity that most attracted the Chiefs, and he has not disappointed in practice.
Mahomes would direct one more drive, netting a first down, before being lifted for fourth-string quarterback Joel Stave. Mahomes finished the day 7 of 9 for 49 yards and a touchdown.
When the Chiefs review film of this game, Reid will likely find things that Mahomes can improve upon. Mahomes is still learning the offense, and will have to master it — and all the terminology that comes with it — before he can operate it consistently.
In the meantime, the Chiefs will be happy to allow incumbent starter Alex Smith — who completed 4 of 6 passes for 48 yards and who also had a fine camp — to maintain the reins of the offense.
Smith has been more aggressive than ever in camp, and that continued on Friday. He completed a 32-yard deep pass to his No. 1 target, Tyreek Hill, on the first play of the game.
There’s a very real chance Smith raises his level of play this year due to Mahomes’ presence, and for the Chiefs, there’s no negative to that. A better Smith gives this year’s team a higher ceiling, perhaps one that can reach the AFC Championship Game or better, and it would be beneficial for Mahomes to watch a serious, respected pro like Smith do his thing for a full season.
But if the Chiefs fall short, and Reid elects to move on from Smith after this year, the next man up will be Mahomes, who has a long way to go but still put the things he does best on full display Friday night.