Sam Mellinger

Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes looks more ready than expected

They say you should never make conclusions based on preseason games and blah-blah-blah they’re usually right but here’s an exception:

The Chiefs aren’t signing any veteran to be the in-case-of-emergency-break-glass backup quarterback.

That was a widely acknowledged possibility, what with Patrick Mahomes still just 21 years old and all.

But, yeah. Forget that.

A week ago, Mahomes was (wink-wink) the Chiefs’ No. 3 quarterback. But midway through the second quarter, coach Andy Reid told him to warmup, that he was going in with the ones, and he turned the surprise news into the biggest takeaway in what eventually became a 30-12 win over the Bengals here on Saturday.

“He, for sure, had some nice plays,” Reid said. “He’s an enthusiastic kid, loves to play, and I thought he played well.”

Reid could watch a rocket bust up a meteor and say, “I thought the scientists did a good job executing,” so “for sure, had some nice plays,” is his equivalent of a cartwheel roundoff to a back handspring in a Mahomes No. 15 jersey.

If you are the type of football fan who remembers preseason games, you will remember this as the night Mahomes showed every throw the NFL requires — plus a few extracurriculars.

“He had like two or three plays he threw off his back foot and across the field,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “Those are the plays you can’t teach. That’s just him being Mahomes.”

It was more than enough to trust him if and when starter Alex Smith — and, yes, Smith should be the starter — is injured.

At Big 12 media day, Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said he hoped his old quarterback wouldn’t have to play as a rookie but that if he did Reid could scheme in a way to keep Mahomes from being overwhelmed.

That remains true, but if you trust preseason football even this much then Mahomes showed he can do some things on his own, too.

The play that will likely get the most talk is the scramble, and it was nice — an 8-yard drop to the 25, then through the grasp of Bengals linebacker Jordan Willis, through a hole in the line and beating the angle of linebacker Vincent Ray to the edge for a dive at the pylon that was initially ruled a touchdown but rightfully brought back out to the 2.

But the most impressive play — the one that Smith is the least likely to make — came on a 3rd and 1 in the red zone. The design was a run-fake to the left, then naked bootleg to the right. But defensive end Will Clarke was neither blocked nor fooled, and had an open run at the quarterback’s chest.

Mahomes (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) stiff-armed Clarke (6-6, 275), then ran away from him, and gathered enough momentum up the field to throw a 23-yard fastball to Gavin Escobar between three defenders and the sideline. First down, plus a totally unnecessary, untouched, why-the-heck-not fall to the ground after releasing the ball.

“It wasn’t there right away,” Escobar said. “I saw Patrick rolling out, staying with the play, and I just stayed with him toward the sideline. He made eye contact, so I knew he was going to dot me. He put it right where it needed to be. I’ve seen him do that in practice, too.”

Oh, there was plenty else. He converted all four of his third downs, including a 3rd-and-6 to Hill and a 3rd-and-14 to DeAnthony Thomas each over the middle of the field — often a danger zone for young quarterbacks.

There was the laser on an out-route to Jehu Chesson, the touchdown to Demetrius Harris on what looked like his third read, and the way he’s able to get the ball out in a virtual blink on the quick-hit stuff that’s such a big part of Reid’s offense.

Exhale, and repeat: it’s-just-preseason, it’s-just-preseason, it’s-just-preseason. If it helps, remember that his first throw was nearly picked off.

It’s a strange thing. Smith is having a terrific preseason, both in games and practice. He is sharp, decisive, and his touchdown pass to Harris against good coverage is illustrative of what appears to be an increased willingness to take some risks (at least so far).

The Chiefs went 12-4 last year, swept the division, and nobody likes to talk about this but Smith was actually pretty good in that playoff loss to the Steelers — particularly when they opened it up at the end.

If he can be more like the 2015 version of himself — before some combination of zone defenses and his head bouncing off the concrete turf in Indianapolis twice diminished his effectiveness as a runner — it will only bolster a team that already has real Super Bowl hopes.

Mahomes is the 21-year-old backup from an Air Raid college offense that so far has produced the same number of good quarterbacks as your local dive bar.

In other words: Smith is the starter, and should be, and if Mahomes makes any starts this season other than a potential end-of-the-year, playoff-positioning-is-all-set game, then something went wrong for the Chiefs.

But, maybe, if this is even a little real, not as wrong as the Chiefs would’ve thought.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger