By Tuesday, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes allowed as how he had seen a few replays of the preposterous 69-yard touchdown pass he threw to Tyreek Hill on Friday in Atlanta. That said …
“Not as much as I think everyone else has,” he said, smiling.
Sure, it was an exhilarating moment for Chiefs fans and Hill and Mahomes, whose 68.6-yard-throw, according to the NFL Network, traveled 6.8 yards farther in the air than any regular-season pass thrown in the league last season.
But the first thing Mahomes said about the play a few days later is, “I underthrew it, to be honest.” He also is keenly aware this was a preseason game.
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And we all should know that the trio of defenders in Hill’s wake are longshots to make the Falcons, something that hardly could be put better than my man Sam Mellinger did Friday night when he referred to them as looking “a little like henchmen from an old episode of Batman.”
Meanwhile, Mahomes and anyone who has been paying the slightest attention has known for some years now that he has uncanny arm strength, and that this sort of highlight is really possible — especially with the fastest man in the NFL at his disposal.
What Mahomes thinks more of every day now, and perhaps has for a while, though, is this:
The arm in itself might make grown men drool and enables him to have the capacity for a special career ahead, to possibly do things that few have ever been able to do. But that offers only a sliver of what quarterbacking is, and his arm strength will be reduced to a novelty act if he doesn’t make good on the broader duties and intricacies and nuances of the infinitely complicated position.
That’s why he’s conscious of being more than just some amazing disembodied arm, just a limb the Chiefs are out on.
“You can have the big arm and that’s good, and it helps out in the games, but it doesn’t help you necessarily win games,” said Mahomes, who continues to credit Alex Smith for helping him learn this. “If you want to win games in this league, you have to be efficient.”
So the most gratifying thing to come out of Friday night for Mahomes, and the most significant in his development, was less the sizzle of the play we’ll all remember than the warts-and-all 13-play, 73-yard drive that ended in a field goal.
“That long drive was probably my favorite part about the whole game,” said Mahomes, who completed eight of 12 passes for 138 yards with a touchdown and an interception in one half of play in the 28-14 victory.
That sequence, which included a nullified touchdown pass and a ball that should have been intercepted, was much more instructive about the fundamental operation of the position.
It also was a reflection of how Mahomes has been making good on what coach Andy Reid has been saying all along this preseason, something I’ve come to believe.
“He doesn’t make the same mistake twice, normally,” Reid said again Tuesday, later adding, “It’s important, because there are going to be hiccups as we go. As a young guy, he’s seeing things for the first time in many cases.”
Reid can’t quite mean this literally in every scenario, because certainly Mahomes has made errors of a similar nature more than once. But he can say it with conviction in some more figurative conceptual senses.
Along those lines, perhaps nothing stood out more than a play Reid spoke about in a teleconference Saturday but that he and Mahomes expanded on Tuesday.
Facing third and 11 from the Chiefs’ 44-yard-line, Reid called a play for tight end Travis Kelce as the primary receiver on a corner route to the right side of the field.
It was the opposite side of the field but the same play, Reid said, as the one run in the preseason opener that Mahomes badly overthrew.
This time, Mahomes released the ball well before Kelce’s cut and feathered it perfectly for a 14-yard gain — my personal favorite play of his that day.
It wasn’t merely that Mahomes’ footwork and timing were better than in the previous version. It also was testimony to a few other substantial things, including the chemistry building through ongoing extra work last week with Kelce.
“He’s always just in the right space and the right spot,” Mahomes said. “So for me, I can throw it and trust that he will be in that spot. And that’s a big thing to have for a quarterback.”
So is his understanding that those plays are as much or more crucial than the ad-libbed to the offensive prospects of the Chiefs. They doubtless will conjure a number of jaw-dropping plays from Mahomes to Hill or Kelce or Sammy Watkins and others … but can’t expect that on its own to mean winning football.
Instead, they’ll still have to rely on some time-honored formulas.
“Good third-down teams are teams that usually have success in this league,” said Mahomes, who considered the aforementioned pass more challenging than his TD pass to Hill. “I felt like it was a harder throw and a little better spiral.”
Asked which was more difficult in his eyes, Reid smiled and said, “Um, not everyone can do the long one.”
That said, though, while “the long ones will come,” Reid knows the intermediate game is everything. And he liked what that play said about Mahomes’ mindset both in terms of preparation and resilience.
“No hesitation” to do it again, Reid said, despite the previous week’s misfire.
Of course, this was with vanilla offense against scaled-down defensive looks in games that don’t matter.
When the regular season starts at the Los Angeles Chargers on Sept. 9, Mahomes can expect to see plenty he’s never faced before and make some mistakes.
“That kind of continues through the first year; you see it, and you work through it,” Reid said. “It doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful and win games and all that. That’s not what that means.
“It’s important that when you see (the same looks or situations) again, you don’t make the same mistake. That can be a problem.”
So with starters customarily sitting out the last preseason game, Mahomes will have one more opportunity on Saturday at Chicago to demonstrate that he’s staying true to what Reid is suggesting.
It would be good evidence the trend is continuing if Mahomes this time around doesn’t throw deep into single coverage with the safety cheating over and get picked off again.
Or if he’s not forcing another throw into the end zone that may or may not have been caught by Watkins if he’d come back to the ball.
Early as it is, though, we can say this for Mahomes: Even after all the delirium about his pass to Hill, he’s certainly not making the mistake of thinking any of this is just about showing off how far he can throw.
“Having the arm helps, of course,” he said, later adding, “(But) you can’t force the deep shot, you can’t force the big play. It’s something where it comes within the game and something I have to keep learning as I go on.”
Something he’s showing every early sign of being able to do while appreciating the finer aspects of the job.