"I went into that game feeling like we could score anytime," Reid told "The Around the NFL Podcast" last month at the Annual League Meeting in Orlando, Florida. "Once I got into the game, I felt the same thing."
Mahomes led a group of Chiefs backups to a 27-24 victory over the Broncos' starters, a tantalizing performance by the rookie that helped supply Reid with enough confidence to eventually trade away starting quarterback Alex Smith coming off the veteran's best NFL season. The next era of Chiefs football started before the latest painful playoff loss of Reid's tenure in Kansas City -- to the Titans in the Wild Card Round -- even occurred.
With the team's playoff seeding secured heading into the regular-season finale, Reid told his offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and assistant head coach Brad Childress (Nagy is now head coach of the Bears) to begin working on potential playoff opponents. Reid, meanwhile, worked first-hand with Mahomes and assistant Mike Kafka (now the Chiefs' quarterback coach) in a dry run for 2018. Reid wanted to see how Mahomes was wired in the buildup to a regular-season contest, and whether all those ridiculous throws he made in practice would translate to an actual game.
It took one third down to find out.
Mahomes' first NFL completion was thrown 35 yards, straighter than a clothesline and into a window smaller than Reid's famous utility belt. Quarterbacks have gone entire, productive careers in the NFL without making a throw that good. The belief that Reid shows in Mahomes -- the Chiefs called passes on the game's first three plays -- is nothing compared to how much Mahomes trusts his arm.
That confidence will inevitably get him in trouble early in his NFL development -- he got away with a few risky throws against Denver -- but the tradeoff is worth it for his ability to create points out of thin air. Broncos safety Will Parks had perfect coverage on the third-and-10 toss that kick-started the Chiefs' opening touchdown drive, but Mahomes has the ability to beat perfect coverage. That was a theme to his first start.
It's unfair to compare Mahomes' arm strength to that of Alex Smith, because it's unfair to compare Mahomes' arm strength to that of almost any NFL quarterback. In the play shown in the clip above, a Broncos blitzer got free to create immediate pressure on Mahomes on third-and-14. That should have ended the drive, but Mahomes responded by shaking off the defender, moving left and tossing a bullet across his body to Albert Wilson for the first down.
Arm strength can be overly fetishized in the pre-draft process, but a play like that shows how it can make up for sins like poor pass protection. And unlike some other quarterbacks known for their heaters, Mahomes has already shown he can also throw off-speed.
For Mahomes' next trick, he completed what amounted to a fadeaway jumper between two downfield defenders before getting knocked to the ground by another free rusher. It's at that point in the game that I wouldn't have blamed Reid for beginning to daydream about the 2018 season. The easy throws and airtight, creative early game scripts that Reid creates won't go anywhere. But when those play calls run dry, like they did against the Titans in the playoffs a week later, Reid will have a quarterback capable of making plays on his own.
"It was just so smooth," Reid said of Mahomes' first start.
Apart from the highlight-reel plays, the rookie looked remarkably comfortable doing his job. Learning for a full season under such excellent tutors as Reid and Nagy in 2017 helped even out some of the rough edges in Mahomes' game. Reid said that Mahomes could buy Alex Smith a castle, and it wouldn't repay him for all that the veteran taught him. Every Texas Tech fan or draftnik who touted Mahomes -- selected 10th overall after the Chiefstraded up in last year's draft -- should be so happy that their guy landed in quarterback heaven.
"He made some plays, you saw him doing those no-look throws that he does in practice, and you kinda go -- well, that's practice. And he starts doing those in the game, you go, 'Whoa, that's something special,' " Reid said.
A play that stupid-good shouldn't happen. Mahomes shouldn't even try a throw like that while sprinting away from Von Miller. But it's a play that makes everyone who saw it -- including those in the Chiefs' building -- want to see more. It's the type of play that makes K.C. general manager Brett Veach call Mahomes "one of the best players I've ever seen." It makes Reid, wearing a salmon-colored, short-sleeve button-down shirt, walk through the meeting with as much swagger as any head coach.
Reid now gets to enjoy an entire offseason cooking up an offense built around a talent this immense. It's enough to make Reid feel 20 years younger, going back to his days mentoring Brett Favre in Green Bay, the promise of a career with limitless potential stretching out in front of him. All it took was one supposedly meaningless start.