Vahe Gregorian

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes is amazing but somehow needs to be even better in playoffs

Recent slow starts by Chiefs Patrick Mahomes not concerning to Reid

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid isn't concerned with the slow starts for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in recent games. Mahomes says he want to score fast, but if it doesn't happen he wants to find a way to bounce back quickly.
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Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid isn't concerned with the slow starts for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, in recent games. Mahomes says he want to score fast, but if it doesn't happen he wants to find a way to bounce back quickly.

At about 6 a.m. Christmas morning, as he put it, Patrick Mahomes “got to wake up … with my little sister there.” Soon thereafter, he was opening presents and going along with a family picture clad in pajamas themed to the day.

“It wasn’t my choice; I didn’t know the picture was going to go to social media,” he said Wednesday. “But that’s how it is. … I’m in the Christmas spirit whenever.”

Such is life as the gift that keeps on giving this holiday season, the one singularly spreading hope and joy to Chiefs fans in a way they’ve seldom, if ever, experienced before.

The picture spread rapidly from an Instagram post, par for about any documented move made by the overwhelming candidate for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, which would make him the first Chief thus recognized.

It’s not merely the gaudy numbers (48 touchdown passes and 4,816 yards with just 11 interceptions) that distinguish him. It’s in the way he’s redefining the parameters of the position by wriggling out of impossible binds to make plays into unfathomable pinholes with precision passes from an array of absurd release points.

And it’s the uncanny cool amid the chaos that enables all that, a trait that stems from his natural poise, his lifelong exposure to these environments through his father’s Major League Baseball experiences, trust in those around him, what at least borders on a photographic memory and a knack for processing anything gone wrong while moving forward.

All of which brings us to a recent point of scrutiny — an off-kilter start or three, including the Chiefs’ 38-31 loss Sunday at Seattle — and why that’s more about our obsession with his every gesture than it is a legitimate point of concern … at least about him.

It’s true that Mahomes hit just one of seven passes to start the game, in the process missing deep attempts to Demarcus Robinson (underthrown) and Travis Kelce (overthrown).

It’s just as true that he completed 22 of 33 for 267 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions the rest of the way, and if not for a couple of fumbles and drops the Chiefs might have pulled out the game.

Mahomes, who has been remarkably candid about anything that goes awry, on Sunday casually dismissed any suggestion he had been over-amped as he also appeared to be initially at New England and Denver. On Wednesday, he essentially reiterated the point when he shrugged off a notion he might have had to reset mentally after the early misfires.

“No, it’s all about the next play; the next play you always get an opportunity to do better,” he said. “And so for me that’s my mentality. It doesn’t matter how the entire game (has gone) as long as you go out there and execute that next play … (to) the best of your ability. That’s the best thing you can do in that moment.”

Nothing to see here, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday, and for the most part that’s right.

“Each throw is a little different. It’s not like he is throwing them in the dirt or throwing them out of the stadium. That’s not what he is doing,” he said. “You take the first throw that he had (Sunday), and that thing is two inches away from being a touchdown. If that kid (Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright) doesn’t get a hand on it, Tyreek (Hill) is gone.

“It was a good decision by him to try and shape it around the guy and the guy made a good play. That wasn’t anything with being too hyped or anything else. I can take you through the other ones kind of the same way. It is just the way they fell.”

Reid reaffirmed much of that Wednesday, though he did allow as how Mahomes “has a tendency to settle down as he goes and make some plays.”

Indeed. Trouble is, the fallout of any offensive hiccups at the beginning of games is compounded by the liability posed by the Chiefs’ defense — and what the combination means to the broader dynamics in play.

For the most part, as the Chiefs were storming to a 5-0 start and winning nine of their first 10, the formula went like this: The defense managed a stop to start the game, the Chiefs scored immediately and often repeatedly, and, shazam, the complexion of the game changed.

Opponents had to play catch-up and chase points, which typically has played into the hands of the Chiefs … even if the defense has often been compliant enough to let it get close.

Much is being asked of Mahomes, who at age 23 already has delivered beyond comprehension in his first season as an NFL starter — even with his arsenal reduced in the ongoing absence of Sammy Watkins with a foot injury.

But with the margin for error so scant because of the defense, the best chance for the Chiefs to both secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC by beating Oakland on Sunday and then making the most of that might hinge on a point that seems like nitpicking:

They need to click early, not to mention often, or the games that matter most are likely going to come down to nerve-wracking comeback attempts like Sunday at Seattle instead of simply anxiety-inducing efforts to withstand rallies. Everything is still possible with Mahomes, but some scenarios are more favorable than others. And hoping for yet more from him seems more feasible than expecting it on the other side of the ball.

That’s quite another weight to put on the shoulders of Mahomes, as well as on Reid’s play-calling. Mahomes has been everything you want in an MVP, after all. But for that to have real resonance, with merely all eyes on him as part of the transcendent territory he stands in, he may need to be almost perfect from the get-gos ahead for his gifts to mean a deep playoff run.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.