Not many quarterbacks in the NFL can post a stat line that includes 478 yards passing on 33-of-46 accuracy with six touchdown passes. There also aren’t many you could legitimately argue wouldn’t have hurt their case for MVP after committing five turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles).
Chiefs first-year starter Patrick Mahomes gave spectators a little bit of everything on Monday night.
Mahomes’ moments of virtuoso quarterbacking without a doubt played a big part in the team’s highest-scoring game of the season. He led an offensive performance that included 546 total yards in a fast-paced air show that included almost 900 passing yards and 105 total points in the Chiefs 54-51 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
There’s also a case to be made that Mahomes’ turnovers were the difference in a win or loss in the Monday Night Football shootout.
Just don’t insinuate that around Chiefs veteran outside Justin Houston.
“It’s a team effort,” Houston said when asked about the uncharacteristic turnover-heavy game for Mahomes. “How many games he done won for us? I’m not going to let y’all do that. It’s a team effort.”
After the game, Mahomes shouldered that very same responsibility that Houston refused to put on one person. The young quarterback who has garnered so much adulation was quick to wear the errors he made, even if his teammates had nothing but praise for him.
“Every single game you leave plays out there you think you can get,” Mahomes said. “But yeah, I mean, you said it — the turnovers just changed the game. I think I gave them 21 points, pretty much, through turnovers. It’s kind of just like at the New England game, you can’t give good teams points turning the ball over.”
Well, let’s take a closer look. The game film is courtesy of NFL Game Pass. The game-day television broadcasts, a condensed 45-minute version of every game and the coaches’ film, are available with an account at www.nfl.com/gamepass.
Manipulating the safeties
Situation: First-and-10 at the LA 25-yard line, 3:33 left in the first quarter with LA up 13-0
Alignment: The Chiefs broke the huddle with “12” personnel with one running back (Kareem Hunt) and two tight ends (Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris) on the field along with two wide receivers (Tyreek Hill and Chris Conley).
With the ball on the left hash mark, Mahomes lined up in the shotgun with Hunt to his right. The Chiefs spread the defense out despite having two tight end personnel on the field. Harris had a tight split to the left on the line of scrimmage, while Conley lined up outside the numbers on the right side of the formation with Kelce inside him a few steps inside the numbers and Hill just outside the right hash mark in the slot.
At the snap: The Rams had John Johnson III (43) playing deep safety more than 15 yards off the ball, while safety Lamarcus Joyner (20) lined up about 10 yards off the ball. Kelce and Conley ran deep routes — Kelce up the seam and Conley up the sideline — which occupied the attention of Johnson. Hill worked one-on-one against cornerback Sam Shields (37). Shields whiffed on making contact at the line of scrimmage with Hill slightly off the line. He ran across the face of Joyner 10 yards down field with Shields already trailing him.
However, Joyner read the eyes of Mahomes at the snap. Mahomes looked right at the deep routes of Kelce and Conley, knowing he had Hill one-on-one and having beat his man off the line. Mahomes held Joyner with his eyes and turned his head after Hill had passed Joyner. At the same time, Johnson drifted to the right hash with Mahomes’ glance to the right. That’s crucial because Johnson didn’t have the time to makeup ground and contest the throw to Hill with Shields trailing. The result was a 25-yard touchdown pass.
Working the matchups/taking shots
Situation: Second-and-10 on the KC 44 yard line, 53 second left in the second quarter and Rams up 23-17
Alignment: With the ball on the right hash mark, the Chiefs broke the huddle with “11” personnel or one running back (Hunt), one tight end (Kelce) and three wide receivers (Demarcus Robinson, Conley and Hill). Mahomes was in the shotgun with Hunt to his right. Robinson split wide right outside the numbers, while Hill went wide left outside the numbers with Conley inside the numbers and Kelce just outside the left hash mark. The Rams had John Johnson III (43) between 10 and 12 yards off the ball, while safety Lamarcus Joyner (20) lined up more than 20 yards off the ball with time running out in the half.
At the snap: The Rams matched up safety Marqui Christian (41) on Kelce. Kelce stands six inches taller and weighs about 40 pounds more than Christian, but what makes Kelce unique is that he runs so well at his size. Christian gave a 7-yard cushion and maintained outside leverage — presumably because safety John Johnson III (43) stayed in the middle of the field 10-12 yards off the ball.
From the end zone view, it appears Johnson never attempted to recognize the pattern. He stayed locked on Mahomes, including when Kelce ran behind him with a step on his defender. Mahomes recognized that Johnson didn’t have a sense of the route and his throw led Kelce away from the defender in man-to-man coverage. It also went right over Johnson, who didn’t get any depth when Kelce passed behind him.
Another example of Mahomes taking advantage of the individual matchups came on his 73-yard touchdown pass to Hill early in the fourth quarter. Mahomes carries out the play-action fake and immediately looked to see how the cornerbacks and safeties handled coverage on Hill running the deep streak up the seam.
Sam Shields (37) looks to have had his eyes in the backfield as Hill got on him quickly, and Shields fell as he started to turn his hips and run. With Shields down, Mahomes loads up and lets it fly. You can see from the side view that as soon as Demarcus Robinson realizes the ball is in the air — with him having drawn both the cornerback and the safety to his side of the field — he begins celebrating the big play with his arms in the air.
From the end zone angle, the thing that’s important to notice is Kelce remained in and had to make a crucial block on Samson Ebukam to allow Mahomes to carry out the fake, turn, identify his target and throw it deep.
Situation: Third-and-4 from the LA 8, 20 seconds left and the Rams up 23-17
Alignment: With the ball on the left hash mark, the Chiefs broke the huddle with “11” personnel or one running back (Spencer Ware), one tight end (Kelce) and three wide receivers (Demarcus Robinson, Conley and Hill). Mahomes lined up in the shotgun with Ware to his right, Kelce in a 3-point stance to the left in a traditional tight end alignment. Hill is outside the right hash on the line with Conley between the hash and the numbers wide of Hill and Robinson wide of Conley and just outside the numbers.
At the snap: Mahomes dropped back and appeared to look at Kelce, who got hugged by safety Marqui Christian (41). Mahomes steps up past the pressure as John Franklin-Myers started to collapse the pocket by pushing Mitchell Schwartz back within a step of where Mahomes set up.
Part of what has set Mahomes apart early in his career as a starter has been his ability to make plays on the run. The receivers have spoke repeatedly about knowing they’re always a viable option when Mahomes goes on the move. Conley took a bump early in his route by inside linebacker Cory Littleton which caused Conley to stumble. Conley gathered himself in time to turn it into a scramble drill and cut across field into Mahomes’ view and made a leaping catch for the touchdown.
“Patrick (Mahomes) is a gamer,” Conley said. “Regardless of what happened out there tonight, he was ready to go out there to make plays to win the game and we admire that about him. We are behind him and he is our quarterback and we know he will bounce back from this and he will be better.”
Not all roses
Ebukam returned a Mahomes fumble for a touchdown with 1:50 left in the second quarter. Aaron Donald, potentially the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, made a strip-sack that led to Ebukam’s recovery and 11-yard return.
While Mahomes has a tendency to extend plays and buy time in the pocket, it’s clear that the reason Mahomes held the ball as long as he did on that play was in order to avoid throwing an ill-considered pass and potentially leading to an interception.
At the snap, Mahomes looks to his left where Hill is running a deep route. However, the safety on that side flies over the top of the route to provide double coverage along with the corner who ran with Hill at the line of scrimmage. Mahomes started his throwing motion, stopped and with a breath of him pulling the ball back down, Donald chops downward to knock the ball loose.
On the second strip-sack fumble forced by Donald on the opening possession of the third quarter. Mahomes attempts to make a play on the run — something he’s excelled at this season — but was unaware of Donald coming from behind.
The Rams lined up their edge rusher wide and allowed Donald to attack to the outside shoulder of left guard Cam Erving almost like an edge rusher. This also made it difficult to provide help for Erving.
“Yeah, I mean he’s pretty good on film too – I mean he’s a good player,” Mahomes said of whether seeing Donald on film does justice to his presence in person. “It’s hard to say that because you watch him on film he dominates on film, but at the same time when you get out there in the game, with the speed and strength that he plays at I mean — it’s unreal and he’s also a smart player. On those strip-sacks he could of easily just sacked me, but he came around and got it out of my hand and the got the momentum kind of in their favor.”
The interception return for a touchdown came on what looked like a run-pass option, based on the way the offensive lineman fired out of their stances. The inside linebacker Mark Barron (26) broke for the flat where Hill’s route took him. Tight end Demetrius Harris slipped into the open space vacated by Barron, and Mahomes attempted to throw to Harris.
Ebukam got his hands up while being blocked and batted the ball down to himself for a tremendous individual play.
“The pick that I threw where he returned it is probably the biggest one just because the guy was open and I feel like I was a little early so I kind of babied it instead of just ripping the ball like I’ve been doing the whole game, “Mahomes said. “And it got deflected and he made a great play on a scored touchdown but it kind got them a 10 or nine point lead at that point and it’s hard to come back that late in the game and we were – luckily the defense gave us a turnover of their own, but it’s hard to come back from stuff like that.”
The second interception looks familiar because the Chiefs again tried to run the play-action face with Kelce blocking Ebukam one-on-one. While Mahomes pushed the protection in order to throw the 73-yards pass to Hill, Ebukam defeated the block after Mahomes carried out the fake, turned, found his target and set himself to throw. Ebukam hit him as he threw and the ball fell short of the intended target and led to Marcus Peters’ interception.
A somber-toned Kelce alluded to having missing a blocking assignment as well as having too many dropped passes after the game.
“You go back in a game like this — heck, I wish I would have called some different plays,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We can all do better on both sides of the ball and special teams. We can learn from this in a lot of different ways. We’ve got to look at it individually even though we talk team and that helps us become a better team when we do that and be real with ourselves.”