Vahe Gregorian

A subtle but substantial trait that explains why Patrick Mahomes will get even better

Chiefs Patrick Mahomes has plenty of help in getting better

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is surrounded by coaches and players that are helping him to become a better player, even though he already holds the Chiefs record for single season passing touchdowns.
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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is surrounded by coaches and players that are helping him to become a better player, even though he already holds the Chiefs record for single season passing touchdowns.

In addition to his astounding exploits on the football field, his animated appearances at local sporting events and heartwarming charitable gestures, a more subtle aspect of Patrick Mahomes’ infinite appeal is on display every time he speaks with the media.

It’s not simply his tendency to start every answer with a reflexively agreeable “yeah, …” before proceeding. It’s his willingness, even eagerness, to probe the forensics of anything gone awry.

In a league dominated by those who act like providing any insight is akin to handing over nuclear codes, Mahomes’ candor is as unique as his arm. Just name the miscue, or he might even bring it up himself, and Mahomes typically embraces it in such vivid detail he might as well be in a confessional:

He was too indecisive … or forced a ball … or got greedy … or held the ball too long. You name it, he’s owned it.

While he had more to discuss than usual earlier this week as he spoke to his most recent performance, when he threw for 478 yards and six touchdown passes but committed five turnovers in a 54-51 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the habit has been evident since he took over as the Chiefs starting quarterback this season.

But there’s plenty more to the meaning of this trait than that it makes Mahomes all the more likeable.

It’s part of a fundamental reason why Mahomes can be expected to improve even after a stupefying first 11 games this season, during which time he has entrenched himself as a frontrunner for NFL MVP and assumed the principal role in establishing the Chiefs as a legitimate Super Bowl contender — perhaps even for years to come.

The custom tells you so much about the mindset of Mahomes, who is so gifted in so many ways and surrounded by so much talent and being cultivated by a special offensive coaching guru in Andy Reid.

Within that framework, the only thing that would keep Mahomes from getting better and, in fact, maximizing his uncanny talent and aptitude for the game would be complacency or arrogance.

But his character is a buffer against either, and this tendency is a window to that.

Instead of turning egomaniac or overconfident, he remains earnest and accountable and as self-aware as he is self-assured — which is quite a thing when you think about it.

He understands his gifts, but instead of taking them for granted he knows they should be harnessed and has the mental fortitude to know he always could do things better even on days of great success.

Meanwhile, like all great leaders, Mahomes knows he is only as good as his supporting cast and that all benefit when it’s about the team. So he constantly takes blame and gives away credit. That goes a long way in his credibility with teammates, who never have flashed a hint of jealousy over the sudden national fuss over him.

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This penchant also gets at how he relishes being coached, as you’ve perhaps witnessed directly in those fascinating scenes sitting with Reid on the sidelines. Through serious and relentless study, Reid often says, he seldom makes the same mistake twice.

And in this vast and intricate offense, Mahomes knows the plays, and their context, so well that he usually anticipates what Reid will be calling, quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka said.

Most of all, Mahomes knows he has so much to learn, from “just knowing when to and when not to take a chance” to the importance of being more decisive to not holding the ball as long to retaining simple fundamentals.

The last concept might seem counterintuitive for a guy whose game seems predicated on so much unorthodox stuff, whether it’s footwork or the angle of his arm or throwing against the grain or without looking. Nevertheless …

“That’s something I feel like I always have to go back to,” he said.

Even in his case, Kafka said, it’s still about “his footwork, his eyes, progressions and reads” and, of course, ball security.

Sure, Kakfa acknowledges “you never really want to take” away the creativity from Mahomes, but he knows Mahomes can further prosper by being reminded of the finer points.

Mahomes knows all this, too, and he understands that honoring the tutelage and the opportunity is his path to making the most of his considerable talents.

Even after he has gone so far so fast that you are left to wonder how much of this stuff from Oakland coach Jon Gruden at a news conference earlier this week was gamesmanship and how much was just Gruden unable to contain himself.

“His overall skill set is sickening. It really is,” said Gruden, whose 2-9 Raiders host the 9-2 Chiefs on Sunday. “He’s double-jointed. He can throw the ball from any platform possible. Running to his left, fading backwards. He can get out of trouble.

“I compliment everybody, I’ve been accused of that, but this guy has off-the-chart arm talent. Skill level is unbelievable. He has a playing style that reminds me of (Brett) Favre. He’s a young Favre. I think that’s why Andy Reid went and got him. He won’t quit on any play. He makes a lot of plays when there’s nothing there.”

With a laugh, Gruden finished his answer by saying, “I don’t have time to talk about him anymore.” But he soon spoke of one of Mahomes’ passes at Texas Tech as the greatest throw he’d ever seen, and on a conference call with Kansas City reporters he suggested Mahomes “might be the most dynamic player to enter the NFL in history.”

Overstated or not, what will matter most in Mahomes career isn’t how he entered the NFL. It’s what he does day-to-day, what he does from here. And you can know this so far:

He is unspoiled and unfazed by all this and understands that he is only beginning to tap his vast potential — a state of mind that in itself is crucial toward actually doing it.

Don’t believe it? Well, he’ll tell you that in as many words next time he critiques himself.

Vahe Gregorian

Vahe Gregorian is a Kansas City Star sports columnist.

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