The most memorable play from an MVP season didn’t derive completely out of spontaneity, as casual as it might have seemed. When Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes flicked a pass to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson over the middle of the field, only after multiple replays did most even seem to notice what he’d done.
Wait, he didn’t even look at him?
Inside the home locker room, though, Chiefs players saw it coming for weeks. And in Year Two of Mahomes, they’ve learned to be even more prepared. In practice. In games. Whenever.
But there are misfires. Same as there are with any other route — a slant, post, curl or fade. One came Sunday in Jacksonville. Mahomes thought he had tight end Travis Kelce open in the end zone. He no-looked the throw. (Can we officially use that as a verb now?) The pass sailed on him.
It would be easy to expect Mahomes to cut the play out of his repertoire. Simply be content that it worked last season.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid had the opposite response.
Go for it.
“I understood why he did it,” Reid said. “The picture is there, so I can see it with my own eyes. ... Just look at the underneath coverage guy, and you’ll see what he’s thinking there.”
OK, let’s look back on it.
Four defensive backs hovered over the left half of the field. The Chiefs had only two receivers there, Kelce and Sammy Watkins. The Jaguars smothered Watkins — a rarity Sunday, with Watkins totaling 198 yards. That left Kelce seemingly open, but cornerback D.J. Hayden actually crept underneath the throwing window, an obstacle in the passing lane.
He stared down Watkins, trying to prompt Hayden to move toward him and leave Kelce, but Hayden didn’t fall for it. Mahomes threw it anyway, a pass that still could have been completed with a little more touch lofted over Hayden. Or maybe a pump-fake would’ve done the trick.
Mahomes regretted the result of the play, enough to joke that he owed Kelce a meal.
“I thought I did a good job of moving the flat defender,” Mahomes said. “I don’t think I necessarily needed to go full no-look. I could’ve maybe looked (late in the play). I got him inside, and he was trying to get to a place I wanted to throw the ball. Right before I threw the ball, I could’ve given a glance to see how he came out of his route.”
In other words, the regret lies within the timing of the no-look pass, not the decision to implement it. It’s an important distinction when gauging whether the no-look might return at some point this season.
Because yes, it will.
It’s coaching-staff approved. There are valid reasons to use it during a game, which Reid outlined in his defense of Sunday’s play. Mahomes can move a defender with his eyes.
Here’s the other behind-the-scenes reasoning: It works in practice. He’s not just suddenly cutting it loose when it counts the most. It’s become such a regularity in practice that Mahomes keeps his own receivers on their toes with it.
They’re wondering themselves where he’s going to go with the football. But they’re ready for it. Just in case.
Asked if he knew Mahomes was using him as a decoy to sell the no-look attempt Sunday, Watkins said, “I’m not aware. That’s why I kind of looked at him like, ‘Wait.’ But he does it a lot in practice. You’re not looking at him, and he’s looking the other way, and he just throws a dart at your face.
“You can be mad at him, but that’s what he does. You have to be ready for it.”
Last Sunday night, before the week’s featured standout game on NBC between Pittsburgh and New England, a clip of Mahomes and Hall of Famer Brett Favre exchanging no-look throws aired during halftime.
It’s almost become synonymous with Mahomes. The no-look pass. It’s a trick throw that worked once. Fun to analyze. Fun to re-create.
In reality, it’s much more than that. It plays into the bigger picture, representative of who Mahomes has developed into as the league’s most difficult quarterback to game-plan against.
He’s a full-on playmaker at the quarterback position.
Regardless of the recent failure staining the no-look resume, Reid’s offense — and philosophy — allows Mahomes to be creative. To spitball when it makes sense.
To make a play.
A year ago, Reid joked that he “built that right into the offense.” In a literal sense, it’s untrue. In a figurative sense, it rings accurate.
The play isn’t on the sheet. But it’s here to stay.
“I think that’s the biggest thing in the offense — not necessarily only with the no-look (passes) but just when I’m scrambling or going through a read,” Mahomes said. “There’s never a dead route. Everyone has to stay alive. We make a lot of money when we’re kind of extending plays and stuff. They know to always be ready for the football, and that has transitioned into this season.”