A mere 10 games into Patrick Mahomes’ career, any fresh superlatives already are dwindling even as each week provides more testimony to how real and spectacular just the facts are:
As of his 375-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Chiefs’ 37-21 victory over the Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, Mahomes had thrown for more touchdowns (29) and yards (3,185) in the first 10 games of his career than any player in NFL history.
His next touchdown pass will tie the franchise season record set by Len Dawson in 1964, when the Chiefs still resided in the AFL. With him at the helm, the 8-1 Chiefs are absolutely a Super Bowl-caliber team.
But it’s much more than that kind of raw data that makes Mahomes so appealing, isn’t it?
It’s the flesh and blood in his game and in his persona, reassurances that a guy who seems too good to be true isn’t in an era when we need people to admire.
It’s his earnestness, bordering on innocence, and the way he engages with fans and happily volunteers specific self-criticism.
It’s in how he makes himself sound like a game manager more than the revelation he is to most Chiefs fans.
Instead, a guy who might be forgiven if he turned arrogant or aloof remains anything but that. He’s confident without being cocky, out in the community without being an attention monger, upbeat without being a showboat, respectful and courteous with fans and the media, all business when called for but completely human otherwise.
We’ll get to the highlight reel in a second, but on Sunday we got another little glimpse of the seemingly secondary stuff that makes Mahomes so enchanting when his first instinct after a 50-yard touchdown pass to Kareem Hunt wasn’t to celebrate with teammates.
Instead, it was to run to Cleveland’s injured E.J. Gaines and wave medical personnel onto the field. Gaines, who played at Fort Osage High and Missouri, left the game with a concussion.
“Football, it’s family,” Mahomes said. “Everybody knows what we all go through. You never want anyone to be injured … I just wanted to make sure that he was all good, and hopefully he’s healthy.”
Maybe this moment didn’t resonate as much to others as it did to me. But it seemed a meaningful affirmation of the essence of Mahomes. Coach Andy Reid noticed Mahomes’ gesture, too, and said, “That’s all part of him” — meaning connected to an inseparable whole.
As he tried to sum up what he appreciates most about Mahomes, Reid pointed to “just the spirit that he brings, the attitude that he has … You don’t ever worry about him having a big head or getting complacent … (because he) just goes about his business the way you’re supposed to do it.”
It makes for a subdued personal charm that in some ways contrasts with the unorthodox game plenty predicated on his uncanny arm and knack for creativity and improvisation.
All of that was well-encapsulated in a two-play sequence in the third quarter that started to put the game away with the Chiefs leading just 21-15.
While you were still shaking your head at how a falling Mahomes managed to hit Travis Kelce for a first down on third and 11, Mahomes was busy zipping a ball to Kelce for a 13-yard touchdown pass that could not have been completed an inch off or at any other velocity.
“Kelce just rips it out of the air, like a Frisbee,” punter Dustin Colquitt said. “Like, man.”
The pass matched the catch to end another familiar sequence for opponents: the sort of demoralizing death-blow the Chiefs have made routine and earlier included a 25-yard gain on a screen pass to Spencer Ware on third and 19.
“Just when you think the play is over,” Kelce said, “he finds a way to make it work.”
In fact, Mahomes makes the unfathomable look easy, again and again, all while essentially shrugging off anything he might bring to the play.
Never mind his epic talent and poise, and the intangible of trust that Mahomes gives and takes with all his receivers. And the endless work that goes into it. And what Kelce called the “countless” times they’ve practiced this stuff already.
To hear Mahomes tell it, he’s just another lucky guy surrounded by great teammates who can’t help but make him look good.
On that touchdown pass, Mahomes deftly read the defense and checked into the call before pinpointing a throw that few mortals could make. Which he explained thusly:
“I knew if I just put it up there, there was a good chance that (Kelce) could go get it. I just threw it up top and he made a great play on the ball. It made me look a lot better that he caught it.”
As for when he was defying gravity the play before, Mahomes thought maybe he left the pocket too early and noted Kelce had to make another great catch since the ball was thrown behind him.
The broader truth, of course, is something Kelce said: Mahomes is “doing an absolutely unbelievable job of finding everybody.”
All while never losing himself, a 23-year-old who is doing things no one else has done before, has made a perpetually pessimistic fan base believe again and yet somehow remains personally someone anyone can feel good about as the face of their team.