Sure, Patrick Mahomes was dynamite in his true debut as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback last week at Los Angeles. Good enough to be recognized as AFC offensive player of the week and to make even those of us who assumed growing pains were ahead consider the possibility that he may somehow seamlessly become a star.
Then again, that was against a Chargers franchise beset by key defensive injuries, playing a team that Andy Reid’s Chiefs teams have absolutely owned. So maybe you wondered how much of that was fool’s gold as he entered Week 2 on Sunday at Pittsburgh — aka “Blitzburgh,” which has been a bullying nemesis to Reid’s KC teams.
This game loomed as a rude awakening, a reckoning, truth serum. And indeed it was … for anyone who needed evidence of what a rare and monumental force the Chiefs have in Mahomes, who will turn 23 on Monday.
With six touchdown passes in the Chiefs’ 42-37 victory over the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field, Mahomes at once matched the franchise single-game record set by Len Dawson in 1964 and the NFL record for the first two games of a season with 10.
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“That’s insane,” Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins said.
In the process, he sent up a flare: No matter how porous the Chiefs’ defense might be, this generational-type talent, surrounded by a potent and versatile cast cultivated by offensive brainiac Reid, means the Chiefs just about always will have a good chance to win.
“The possibilities are endless,” Mahomes said, speaking less about himself than what’s around him after throwing fewer incompletions (five, hitting 23 of 28 targets for 326 yards) than touchdown passes.
And who’s to disagree with that now?
That’s not the same as always will win, of course, because this defense is laden with trap doors. And here’s where we also invoke the obligatory caveats about how Mahomes will have struggles ahead and will make big mistakes that offset his big plays and still is just learning the offense and he has to show that he can do it over time, etc.
Because it can’t just be this easy for him, can it?
Or … can it?
What if Mahomes already went through his transition … last year when he was apprenticing under Alex Smith?
What if he’s both a prodigy and an athletic phenomenon?
What if the combination of incredible arm, vision, smarts, supporting cast and mindset mean he is, as Watkins put it, just doing “what he’s supposed to do?”
All the attributes are an inseparable package, but maybe one factor is more instrumental than anything else in terms of how rapidly he seems to be actually meeting utterly unreasonable expectations.
He sees what most might consider pressure as an opportunity, receiver Conley said.
“The level of confidence and poise that this kid has, I haven’t seen it anywhere,” said Conley, who caught Mahomes’ first TD pass 1 minute, 55 seconds into the game. “You can’t ask him to do anything else. He’s handled the times where he’s made the plays really well. He’s handled the times where he hasn’t. That speaks volumes.”
Ask Mahomes about nerves, and he’ll say maybe he gets some but … not really. He felt prepared, after all, so why be nervous? Even against a team known for its variety of blitz angles and packages, Mahomes said, “I don’t know if anything surprised me.”
So, ho-hum, just trying to not “do too much,” he throws six TD passes and lasers in about every sort of throw you can make all across the field to seven different targets — including Watkins, who had six catches for 100 yards and Travis Kelce, who had seven for 109 and two touchdowns.
“I see Pat doing this all season long,” Kelce said. “He’s got the confidence, and as long as we give him time and get open as wideouts, tight ends and running backs, he’s going to get the best of everyone.”
Meanwhile, good luck getting the best of him mentally.
Outside the Chiefs’ locker room after the game, Mahomes’ father and former Major League Baseball player Pat Mahomes reminisced about having pitched for the last time in the big leagues in this very town 15 years ago.
The germ of all this, he believes, was planted in the 11 seasons he spent in the bigs. Some of his son’s mental toughness comes from what he was born with inside, of course, but the father thinks much of the unflappability comes from simply having been around big-time sports since he was a young child.
“He just grew up that way,” he said, adding that playing at this level doesn’t faze Patrick any more than playing in high school did. “Without a doubt it doesn’t. That’s what makes him special.”
Nothing, the father added, surprises him about how his son is playing. Maybe nothing should surprise us any more, either. Already.
Not that there isn’t stuff to work on (even after a game in which he cleaned up his suspect slide-work.).
From the Chiefs 1-yard-line in the fourth quarter, for instance, he overthrew Tyreek Hill deep.
“Which I didn’t know was possible,” Mahomes said, smiling and adding that Hill was “gone if I hit him in stride.”
Meanwhile, the story of his day could have been radically altered if Mahomes had lost the ball he fumbled on a snap as the Chiefs were trying to run the clock out.
“I tried to come out too fast,” he said.
Fast — just like he has in his first weeks as the Chiefs’ starter, somehow so far better than the hype.