The ball went 70 yards in the air, and that’s neither a typo nor commentary on an impressive punt.
The ball went 70 yards in the air, and in journalism you’re really not supposed to repeat yourself, but just so we’re all clear, here goes one more time — the ball went 70 bleeping yards in the air.
You know what’s really crazy? Patrick Mahomes was off-balance, hurried a bit by a defender closing in from the back and another diving toward his legs in the front of what turned out to be a 28-14 victory in the Chiefs’ second preseason game here on Friday.
Shoot, 70 yards? A college teammate of Mahomes’ says he can throw 85, maybe more. This was not some staged showoff or round of Punt Pass & Kick. This was not an end-of-the-half Hail Mary, where the quarterback has time and space to let it fly. This was the 22-year-old, curly-haired future of the Chiefs going for it because that’s what he was hired to do.
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This is not normal. Even by the standards of the NFL.
“I’ve been around some strong-armed guys, but I don’t know if I’ve seen that,” coach Andy Reid said.
“I have never been on a field when a ball went that far,” offensive lineman Cam Erving said.
The video is half-spectacular, half-comedy, Mahomes taking his scheduled drop, first looking to his right for Travis Kelce, then to his left for Sammy Watkins, and finally down the field to Tyreek Hill. The receiver nearly screwed the play up, too, first turning to his left, then needing to turn back to his right, a mistake that would’ve doomed him if not for his cheat-code speed — 70 yards downfield, he actually has to slow up a little bit to catch the ball behind three Falcons defenders who look a little like henchmen from an old episode of Batman.
On the opposite sideline, some Falcons coaches shook their heads, threw hands in the air. Nobody expects corners to cover — one more time — 70 yards down the field.
“I don’t think I’ve ever thrown one that far in a game,” Mahomes said. “You need people who can catch the ball going that far in a game.”
Well, then ...
“With him and my speed,” Hill said, “we make it look real easy.”
The following is not an exaggeration: No Chiefs quarterback has ever been capable of making this play. Ever.
Whew. /wipes brow/
OK. Time for the wet blanket. This is the preseason. The first game that matters is still 23 days away, and the games that really matter are 20 weeks away. Each of the three defenders Hill beat are unlikely to make the team.
Mahomes threw one atrocious interception, and nearly threw another. The defense appears overmatched and outmanned. All of those things are true, but man, 2018 and in a lot of ways the next decade of the Chiefs are going to be defined by Mahomes ... and right now he looks on time.
The mistakes are there. Subtle stuff, like footwork that needs to be tightened, and pocket presence that will continue to improve. His worst moment was the interception, when he might’ve had Watkins deep with single coverage but forgot to look off the safety, making for a fairly routine pick by Atlanta.
He nearly threw another pick, also to Watkins, this time in the end zone. Mahomes had broken the pocket under pressure, and Watkins was open for a flash. The ball hit the defender in the hands. Reid blamed Watkins for not coming back to the ball, and to be fair, this was after a touchdown was wiped out by a frivolous penalty that may or may not be called in the regular season. But, still. Not a good look.
Also: This is what should’ve been expected and, actually, we can go one more step — this is what should’ve been hoped for. One play can change everything, and that’s a fair enough description for Mahomes as a quarterback.
For years, the Chiefs have been in danger of being ruined by one bad play. With Mahomes, they’ll always be a danger to beat the other side with one remarkable moment. Mahomes is far from a finished product. He was not a starting quarterback until midway through his junior season of high school, and not a full-time football player until his sophomore year of college.
Some in his high school class are about to start their senior seasons in college. He is transitioning from facing Big 12 defenses to NFL defenses, and the rough patches are only beginning. There will be mistakes. A few might mean the difference between a win and a loss, and at some point Chiefs fans are going to appreciate all the subtleties that Alex Smith did so well.
They’re also going to see some stuff they’ve never seen before. This is a bit like going from a sensible Volvo sedan to souped-up Mustang with about 100 more horsepower than necessary. There will be some whiplash, some wrecks and some moments that make you believe anything is possible.
After years — decades, if we’re honest — of quarterbacking-by-numbers, here comes a kid who’s best when coloring outside the lines. The Chiefs have never had someone capable of making that play, and that’s not the exciting part.
It is this: Mahomes will almost certainly do something more spectacular than what he did Friday night, probably next week in Chicago, and then more when the games start to matter.