On the latest spellbinding episode of Legend In The Making, almost nothing went according to script for the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes on Monday night at pulsating and hostile Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
In contrast to the team that hadn’t trailed in its first three games as Mahomes set an NFL record for most touchdown passes (13) in that span to start a season, Mahomes and his supporting cast in one way or another were off-kilter much of the night.
Until, that is, they entered the crucible of the final quarter trailing 23-13, the sort of situation no Chiefs fan wanted but that Mahomes absolutely needed to contend with sooner or later.
The daunting circumstance would have been good for Mahomes even if he didn’t somehow find a way to navigate it.
Instead, it became something else altogether: an ad-libbed (left-handed pass!), hair-on-fire (key 35-yard pass after the play clock, well, hit zero) comeback for a 27-23 victory that will further burnish the resume of the budding star who already has captivated a fan base.
“Is this dude a magician or something?” running back Kareem Hunt said, speaking specifically of the left-handed pass but indirectly more broadly. “Things that you really don’t see often. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
If you already felt like with Mahomes anything is possible, he only added another dimension to your imagination as the Chiefs improved to 4-0 with their sixth straight victory over the longtime nemesis Broncos.
“Our Elway,” one friend texted right after the game. Another wrote: “I’ve never believed in the Second Coming. But the Messiah is here, wearing #15 and a silly haircut.” Another: “Left-handed throw … never seen anything like that. Amazing.” Heck, my 84-year-old father called from New York to say, “That was a great game ... Loved every minute of it.”
None of this would have felt this way, of course, if not for the backdrop that set it up.
While it might seem more desirable for the Chiefs to win every week like they had a week ago against San Francisco, scoring touchdowns on their first five drives, this meant more because of what it said about Mahomes and the Chiefs’ resolve and the baseline it establishes for future such scenarios.
Appropriately enough, even the rally was haphazard … and dazzling.
After the Chiefs cut it to 23-20 and got the ball back with 4 minutes 35 seconds left, Mahomes on third and 5 was flushed out of the pocket and running to his left when he spotted Tyreek Hill.
With momentum carrying him toward the sideline, he simply moved the ball to his left hand and lobbed it to Hill for the first down.
“He actually throws (left-handed) better than me, and I’m left-handed,” Hill said. “That was a good throw, a good toss. Pat, I don’t even know what to say. He does a great job looking down the field, trusting us to stay alive.”
Two snaps later, though, the Chiefs looked anything but. They were facing second and 30 after Mahomes was called for intentional grounding and Mitch Morse was called for holding.
Ho-hum, Mahomes roamed right and found Demarcus Robinson for 23 yards.
Then, amid the chaos of the play clock ticking down and, in fact, hitting zero, Mahomes was composed enough to hit Demetrius Harris for 23 yards to set up Kareem Hunt’s 4-yard touchdown run with 1:39 left.
“I haven’t see a quarterback throw on the run better on him.,” Hunt saId. “He’s running around, still looking down field, throwing the ball 60 yards on the run. You can’t coach that. You can’t coach keeping the play alive.”
That proved to be the game-winning score, albeit only after the defense made you wonder on Denver’s last drive.
The result illuminated a few things that had been obscured, or at least rendered secondary, by Mahomes’ exhilarating dominance through the first three games of the season.
When the offense is out of rhythm for any number of human reasons that that can happen, many of which did happen Monday, then the overall vulnerability of this team is glaring. The Chiefs’ defense that entered the game last in the NFL, with 474 yards a game allowed, and 30th in the league at 30.7 points allowed — and got bulldozed for 223 yards in the first half.
Turns out things look different when one of Mahomes’ prime options, Sammy Watkins, leaves the game with a hamstring injury … and there are several obvious snap miscommunications between Mahomes and Morse … as well as between Mahomes and receivers … and a couple passes are dropped … and Mahomes throws a couple bad passes … and your linemen get called for holding and jumping offside and illegal use of the hands … and receivers in general aren’t getting open fast enough for the amount of heat Mahomes is getting.
Geez, it’s enough to make you think the kid is human after all.
Which explains a little bit of why the Chiefs were trailing 23-13 in the fourth quarter ... and how Mahomes found himself staring down adversity for the first time as the Chiefs’ No. 1 quarterback.
(He shrugged off a different form of it here in Denver last year, when he made his first career start and came out of the game with the lead and re-entered to orchestrate the game-winning drive.)
It was the sort of acid test Mahomes must face to keep growing. And he demonstrated both adaptability — running 8 yards for his first NFL touchdown — and resilience, making key play after key on the 12-play, 75-yard drive that cut the lead to 23-20.
Take your pick: His third and 16 pass to Hill for 15 yards, setting up his fourth and 1 lob to Hunt for 22 yards. Or how about just getting away a third and 1 pass to Chris Conley, good for 5 yards to the Denver 18?
All of which was only the prelude to the final dramatics that added a fascinating and giddy new chapter to the profile of this phenomenon.