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Mahomes, KC Chiefs return to Denver, where he made 1st start

The game was meaningless, but the moment was not.

It was the last week of the regular season, and the Chiefs had the AFC West locked up. The Broncos were already out of the playoff race. For all intents and purposes, the outcome of the New Year’s Eve game didn’t matter.

But it mattered to Patrick Mahomes — and to the future of the Chiefs franchise.

With Alex Smith and the rest of the usual starters resting, Mahomes made his first start and began writing his chapter in Chiefs’ history.

Now, 275 days later, Mahomes is returning to his legend’s genesis when the Chiefs (3-0) take on the Broncos (2-1) in front of a national audience Monday night in Denver. And this time, Mahomes is the full-time starter.

“It feels pretty good, just to play any football game in the NFL,” wide receiver DeMarcus Robinson said. “But it is a special moment to go back to Denver, where it all started.”

Mahomes’ debut wasn’t perfect — he even threw an interception in his second drive and didn’t throw a touchdown pass. But there were flashes of the future in his performance.

A 51-yard pass to tight end Demetrius Harris to convert a third down in his first series, a 17-yard pass to Albert Wilson as he shook a defender from his lower body in the second and a five-yard sprint toward the goal line on a broken play that was inches away from being Mahomes’ first NFL touchdown.

With only a fraction of the Chiefs’ offensive weapons available to him that night, Mahomes still managed to complete 22 of 35 passes for 284 yards.

The throw that sticks with fullback Anthony Sherman is the one Mahomes made to Robinson late in the fourth quarter as he scrambled backwards, angling toward the sideline. Just before he was drilled by defensive end DeMarcus Walker, Mahomes got the throw off for the receiver to catch it and run out of bounds. The pass went down as a 12-yard gain, but the ball traveled 30 yards in the air and eventually led to Harrison Butker’s game-winning field goal.

That’s when Sherman knew the 2018 season had the potential to be special.

“From some of the throws he was making in that game, it was impressive to see,” Sherman said. “And on the run, throwing that one to D Rob on the sideline, which was nice. I mean, I think you knew right then he was going to be special. And it was just going to be a matter of time before it was his job.”

Returning to the scene of his first start gives Mahomes and his coaches a certain level of comfort.

“Obviously, he’s played in the environment,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “I think it helps out a great deal, obviously each and every year a team takes on a new identity. They have got some players over there that have changed locations. Other than that, it’s the same Denver Broncos, they’re still a great defense, and he’ll be ready to go.”

Because of that Week 17 start, the Broncos will be the first NFL team to face Mahomes a second time. While having the extra tape might help some, it hardly gives the Broncos the secret key to slowing the Chiefs’ explosive offense.

“When you watch those games, offensively, they’re a lot different,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “Obviously last year, Week 17, he was probably operating under 35 percent of the offense. Now, having an entire spring, entire training camp, I think they’re back to full-throttle. They’ve got a lot of offense. So it’s no way last year he was operating under that much offense.”

Joseph is right. None of the Broncos top six receivers in 2018 played in last year’s game. One — Sammy Watkins — wasn’t even on the team.

“Last year it was the last week of the season so we didn’t want to show every single play going into the playoffs,” Mahomes said. “There’s definitely going to be a little bit more added to the playbook but at the same time, we have so many weapons that we can run our base stuff and still make plays happen.”

It’s not just the difference from last year to this year that makes it difficult to scheme for Mahomes and the Chiefs; it’s also the week-to-week transformation.

“Every week is something different as far as concepts you have to prepare for,” Joseph said. “And that makes it difficult because they’re going to make you play vanilla and try to find a matchup and then you’ve got problems. He’s doing a great job of handling the total offense. He’s got great composure. He moves out of the pocket when he’s pressured and boy, he’s trying to make big plays. And boy, that makes him scary.”

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Brooke Pryor

Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs and NFL for The Star.

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