Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes recently opened up about last season’s loss in the AFC title game to the Cincinnati Bengals. A game the Chiefs led 21-10 at the half, where Mahomes threw three first-half touchdowns and all was well. In the second half the All-Pro quarterback threw two interceptions and wasn’t at his best when his team needed him.
Unusually for Mahomes, who in his short career has delivered in the biggest moments, he knew he didn’t play well. He’s now admitting the team wasn’t playing to win in the second half.
“The second half of that game: I don’t want to say we relaxed, but I mean when you lead like you did, you want to make sure you win the game, but you don’t want to play like you’re playing not to lose,” Mahomes said in an interview with The Ringer published this week. “And I feel like that’s what we did. As a team, we were playing not to lose, we were playing just to get to the Super Bowl. If you look, they didn’t do much different from the first half to the second half. We just didn’t execute at a high enough level. They were playing the same coverages and we weren’t executing. Then momentum gets in the other team’s favor, and when you’re playing a good football team bad stuff happens.”
Through his first four seasons Mahomes is a four-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time All-Pro, Super Bowl MVP, and league MVP. But since his first season as a starter where he threw for 50 touchdowns and 5,097 yards he hasn’t quite put up those gaudy numbers again. Still excellent, but each year a bit less.
Unintelligent media members and haters say that the league has “figured Mahomes out.” In an anonymous survey done by The Athletic, a veteran defensive coordinator said Mahomes wasn’t a tier-1 quarterback and couldn’t do well once you took away his first read.
“We love Mahomes because of his unorthodox throws, not because of his natural pocket presence. And when that disappears, that is when they lose games. I don’t think that is a [Tier] 1 [QB]. I think that is a [Tier] 2 [QB]. Nothing against the guy. I love the kid. But take his first read away and what does he do? He runs, he scrambles and he plays streetball.”
Mahomes is a one-read QB, he could never cut it in this league pic.twitter.com/Y9qPCrGPvT
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) July 25, 2022
This type of critique is common when assessing Black quarterbacks. It’s full of the racist tropes Black players at that position have dealt with for decades.
Mahomes did have a down year by his lofty standards. His deep ball, which he is better at than any other quarterback in the league, was limited. In his first three years as a starter, Mahomes was first or tied for first in deep touchdown passes (20-plus yards) each year. Last season, he tied for eighth place with seven, about half of his typical output.
The defenses took that part of the game away often dropping two safeties deep. Yet he still managed to finish top five in every relevant statistical quarterback metric. Football Outsiders DYAR (fourth), and DVOA (fourth). He was fifth in QBR and completed a career-high 66.3% of his passes.
“He was able to see some different coverages a little bit, more zone than what he’s seen in the first few years,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. “And so he worked through all that, and now he’s got a whole package of things in his head to counter. He is working his tail off.”
Playing quarterback is hard, and when you excel like Mahomes, teams try to make it even harder for you. But he’s as talented, smart and as hard a worker as there is at the position. Even in a “down” year he learned some valuable lessons and will have the Chiefs ready to make another deep postseason run.