KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes exceeded the expectations of what he could be in his first year as a full-time starter a long time ago. On Sunday, he provided yet another indication of how special he's going to be in the near future. It wasn't so much the numbers he produced that stood out in a 27-24 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens -- it's that he once again willed his team to victory at a time when defeat easily could've been the result.
Of all the great moments Mahomes has provided thus far, nothing compares to what he did against Baltimore. He didn't have Kareem Hunt, as the Chiefs released the Pro Bowl running back on Nov. 30. He didn't have wide receiver Sammy Watkins, whose lingering foot injury reportedly will sideline him for the rest of the regular season. Mahomes also had to deal with a Baltimore defense that was the best in the NFL in points and total yards allowed coming into this contest.
Most quarterbacks would struggle with those circumstances. After throwing for 377 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, Mahomes reminded us once more that he's at his best when the odds are stacked against him.
"He had the one interception but other than that, I thought this was his best game," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. "This defense was a huge challenge. These son of a guns were really good and have a really good package. They unloaded it at him and he kept bringing it. I'm proud of him for doing that. You can get a little defeated when you get hit as many times as he got hit, but he stayed in there and kept firing."
That resilience is starting to become the greatest strength of Mahomes. As captivating as his arm strength and improvisational skills are, there's an undeniable mental toughness about him that has driven the Chiefs to their current 11-2 record. The man simply will do anything possible to deliver a victory for his team. That mentality has become contagious, as the Chiefs now believe they can thrive regardless of how dire a situation may look.
Consider where Kansas City was with 1:29 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, when the Chiefs trailed, 24-17. The Chiefs faced fourth-and-9 from their own 40-yard line as Mahomes dropped back and then raced out of the pocket to avoid pressure from his left. It seemed that he had few good options available until he saw wide receiver Tyreek Hill cutting across the field. Mahomes contorted his body just enough to chuck the ball downfield, where Hill caught it in front of Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley and ran around until he had a 48-yard gain.
That play broke so many conventional rules about quarterback play. There's no way any coach would advise Mahomes to run right, then throw the ball back to the left against a coverage that had a linebacker underneath Hill and two safeties behind him. What we're learning now is that conventional rules no longer apply to this dude. That play set up a 5-yard touchdown pass from Mahomes to running back Damien Williams that tied the game at 24 and gave Kansas City new life.
"You always want to be in the situation where you can go win a football game or go tie it to win it," Mahomes said. "It was a crazy play. I thought the offensive line gave me a ton of time and I extended the play and Tyreek came back to the ball to make a great play. We wound up finishing the drive, getting that touchdown and getting it into overtime to win the game."
"I feel like [Mahomes] doesn't only trust me but he trusts everyone he is throwing the ball to," Hill said. "This time I was on the receiving end to make a play for him."
If there's another argument to be made for why Mahomes deserves the league's Most Valuable Player award, it might come down to that confidence he inspires in his teammates every week. Along with losing two key weapons from an offense that had been arguably the best in the NFL all season, he didn't have Hill at full strength, as the star receiver hobbled through the second half with a heel injury. Add in the fact that Baltimore unleashed a complicated package of blitzes -- which led to three sacks and multiple other hits on Mahomes -- and you should have some idea of how challenging this game was for the second-year quarterback. The Ravens are fighting for their own playoff lives and they made Mahomes look mortal plenty of times on Sunday.
The key thing to remember about Mahomes is that nothing fazes him. It's the reason why he didn't appear rattled when the Ravens forced the Chiefs to play at a slower tempo or even when Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker missed a potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. Mahomes said he still had supreme confidence in Butker to convert a 35-yard kick in overtime, even after Butker had missed two earlier attempts. The way Mahomes views the world, there's never really a reason to fret about somebody on his side failing to deliver.
That faith has fueled his teammates to believe not just in him but their own abilities to make game-changing plays. It's also why the Chiefs are even more excited about where they stand in the playoff picture after such a difficult win. Since both the New England Patriots and Houston Texans lost on Sunday, the Chiefs now hold a two-game lead in the race for the top seed in the AFC postseason. With three games remaining, they're in prime position to keep home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
If the Chiefs do go on a Super Bowl run, this might be the game that gives their young quarterback more of an advantage in January. The Chiefs have been so dominant in recent weeks that it had become customary to expect them to produce 40-point games with Mahomes dominating. He now has 4,300 passing yards on the season, to go along with 43 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. Not even the most biased, diehard Chiefs fan could've envisioned such jaw-dropping numbers in his first season as a starter.
What's more impressive is that Mahomes has become the undisputed leader of this young team, a player who will need to keep gaining valuable experience in tight games like these. In fact, when asked if his team could actually win a home playoff game -- which hasn't happened in Kansas City since 1993 -- owner Clark Hunt said he is already excited about that possibility because of his quarterback.
"Having Patrick as our quarterback will give us a chance to win that game, even if things don't go perfectly for us, much like today's game," Hunt said.
The vibe around Kansas City is that there is plenty of reason to follow Hunt's line of thinking. This franchise has waited three decades for a quarterback to call their own, a talent that came through the draft and promised hope for the future. So far, Patrick Mahomes has been even more than the Chiefs could've imagined. His play on Sunday was yet another reminder that there should be no limits to the dreams he can inspire.