Patrick Mahomes wore a towel, flip flops and nothing else as he walked through a locker room built for soccer but at the moment housing a conquering NFL team. He stepped over a bag, went sideways to slide through some teammates, and then came a traffic jam.
The Chiefs quarterback looked to his left, saw the closely shaved mohawk of his fullback over the cameras and reporters asking questions and smiled at a staffer.
“Trying to get to my locker and the star over here is blocking everybody,” he said.
It’s a good line, told with the easy confidence of a new football star and the confidence of one of the most convincing hard opens in recent history.
Anthony Sherman didn’t hear the joke, but surely he’ll laugh when he does. He is a 5-foot-10, 242-pound fullback and country boy-turned-tight end and deep threat during the Chiefs’ 38-28 win over the Chargers in both teams’ season opener here on Sunday.
The game will be most remembered as the welcomed end of the wait for Mahomes in a meaningful game, the day he showed the hype may not be too far in front of reality after all. He threw for 256 yards and four touchdowns on 27 passes. There was a punt return for a touchdown, too, and the last time the Chargers gave up this many points was 2011 against the Packers — Aaron Rodgers was the league MVP that year, and the Packers finished 15-1.
This was Mahomes’ moment, and everyone understood that, including Mahomes. But the line works as more than irony, because really, this game was less about Mahomes than what the Chiefs can be around his head-shaking talent.
Tyreek Hill is perhaps the best example. He is among the most dynamic players in NFL history, and would be a weapon even with a bowl of oatmeal at quarterback. But with Mahomes, there are times the rules of football are forced to bend.
Hill — not Mahomes — was the single biggest reason the Chiefs won. He took an immaculately blocked punt return for a touchdown, turned a slant on an RPO into a 54-yard sprint for another, backflipped after a shovel pass so thoroughly confusing the Chargers were left clueless, a 30-yard catch on a ball under thrown into double coverage, and more.
But pairing Hill’s cheat code talents with Mahomes’ arm is something else entirely.
“At some point it’s too much,” Sherman said.
Andy Reid is good example, too. He’s a dang good coach. This is his 20th season, and he’s been in the playoffs in all but six, with a mind for offense that has literally changed how others see the craft. He is the artist who came up with Hungry Pig Right and screen passes so advanced they leave his own players head shaking.
But pairing that creativity with Mahomes’ specific talents can stretch the imagination.
“He plays the game in his head so many times,” right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “There’s the counter to the counter, and, ‘They’re going to see this, so what are they going to do, and what am I going to do?’ All that stuff. It’s borne out over 20 years, 25 years, and he’s so good at that stuff.”
The shovel passes really were something. Reid has turned them into an art, including with his tight ends, but he never did this before. The play required practice, precision and a bit of ballet.
Kareem Hunt crossed in front of Mahomes, lifting his arms to fake accepting a handoff, the space between biceps and belly left open long enough for Mahomes to fling the ball through to Hill’s hands. Literally, the play called for a shovel pass to go through the league’s leading rusher from last year so that the fastest man in the sport could stroll into the end zone at a leisurely pace.
“I have to time it up and not hit the ball,” Hunt said. “We have to have the timing down perfect on it.”
“Low-stress play for the o-line, you know?” Schwartz said.
Here’s something to think about. The Chiefs did all this, and the run blocking was unimpressive, Hunt managed just 49 yards on 16 carries, Sherman was the second-leading receiver with just that one (hilarious) play and Travis Kelce caught only one of six targets.
Mahomes self-critiqued, too, volunteering postgame that he felt nonexistent pressure on one snap which caused him to miss chance to hit Sammy Watkins deep. Speaking of Watkins, he dropped a relatively easy pass that would’ve been a first down and instead caused a three and out.
“There’s definitely stuff we need to keep working on,” Mahomes said. “And I’ll keep learning. I’ll see that with film.”
This is a bonkers creation, in other words — an otherworld talent at quarterback who turns 23 next week and is surrounded by the league’s reigning rushing champ, the sport’s fastest human, a second receiver making a million per game, and a tight end who cannot be covered by one man.
None of those guys are even 29, by the way. Together, the average age is 24.
This is the tantalizing part of this group, then. It’s not how good they are now.
It’s that they can be better. Probably will be better, at some point. Maybe soon, but if not here’s the other thing — they should be together for quite some time.