The Chiefs placed a sizable bet on Patrick Mahomes, a quarterback who knows a thing or two about taking chances, and it's already showing signs of a big payoff
By Jeffri Chadiha | Sept. 11, 2018
KANSAS CITY -- The ball smacked against the bat of third baseman Robin Ventura and immediately shot high and deep into the sky. Patrick Mahomes II steadied himself instantly as he tracked the ball soaring above him in the vast outfield of Yankee Stadium, then trotted a few feet to his right. The New York Mets coaches had warned Mahomes' father, Patrick Sr., about the potential dangers involved in allowing a 5-year-old kid to shag fly balls during batting practice in a Major League ballpark, let alone one that was about to be the stage of Game 1 of the 2000 World Series between New York's crosstown rivals. The older Mahomes simply blew off the concerns, knowing full well his boy might learn a thing or two about testing his limits.
Young Patrick coasted toward the ball while Mets pitcher Mike Hampton followed behind him. His dad, a reliever with the Mets at the time, watched the action closely from his spot in the bullpen. It didn't take long for the father to see how talented the son would be. Patrick settled in under the fly ball, hoisted his gloved left hand into the air and made the catch look so easy that even the professionals standing nearby chuckled and shook their heads in disbelief.
Patrick Mahomes II made his father realize two things about his son that day. One was that he had rare natural gifts as a blossoming athlete. The other, which was far more crucial, was that the boy had no qualms about taking a chance. "It goes back to Patrick not being afraid of the moment," Patrick Sr. said. "Not being afraid to fail. He was determined, that was his goal and he was going to catch the ball."
It's been about 18 years since Mahomes startled the collection of people who witnessed that play, and little has changed for him when it comes to jaw-dropping talent and sky-high expectations. As he sat on a ledge inside Arrowhead Stadium in June, he quietly scanned the empty seats below him and pondered the electric atmospheres that would be part of his first season as the Kansas City Chiefs starting quarterback. The buildup surrounding the 22-year-old has been so immense that it's an understatement to say Mahomes already is an undisputed rock star in Kansas City. Given the combination of anticipation and elation that has followed his arrival, it's more appropriate to talk about him like he's the dude who created music.
Some of this collective giddiness centers around the fact that 34 years had passed since the Chiefs last drafted a quarterback in the first round before they selected Mahomes with the 10th overall pick in 2017. More of the excitement has to do with the kind of signal-caller Mahomes is. After decades of watching less-inspiring game managers run the Kansas City offense, Chiefs fans get to spend their Sundays worshiping a big-armed, free-wheeling gunslinger who once set an NCAA record by throwing for 734 yards in a college game. Even Chiefs coach Andy Reid has compared Mahomes to the king of swashbuckling signal-callers, Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre, whom Reid coached as an assistant with the Green Bay Packers two decades ago.
What's most noteworthy about all this hoopla is the way Mahomes has handled the hysteria so deftly. "You hear it," Mahomes said of the hype. "You hear it if you're on Twitter, or my dad might say something to me about it. But for me, it's just about enjoying the everyday grind of football life. I love being able to come in every single day and work out and watch film and practice with guys who are all striving for the same goal. For me, it's all about wanting to have success with the guys in that locker room with you."
It didn't take long for Mahomes to give the fans what they wanted. He delivered one of the most ballyhooed plays in franchise history in the second quarter of the Chiefs' victory over Atlanta in Week 2 of the preseason: a 69-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill right before halftime. What made the throw so stunning was how calmly he dropped back, then shifted a few steps in the pocket before unleashing the throw from his own 25-yard line. The play seemed so improbable that the three Falcons defensive backs who had been covering Hill slowed down right before Hill caught the ball on their 5-yard line . . . and scored on a pass that traveled nearly 70 yards in the air.
The Los Angeles Chargers learned Mahomes was the real thing as well in the Chiefs' 38-28 win on Sunday. He only had 27 attempts but completed 15 for 256 yards and became the fifth-youngest quarterback in NFL history -- eight days before his 23rd birthday -- to throw four touchdowns in a season opener. There wasn't one turnover in that performance, which included a laser over the middle that Hill turned into a 58-yard score and a perfectly lofted throw that landed in the hands of fullback Anthony Sherman for a 36-yard touchdown. As Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said of Mahomes after the game, "I think he has a chance to be a really, really awesome player."
The Chiefs already had a potent offense in 2017, when they ranked fifth in the league in total yards per game (375.4) and sixth in points per game (25.9) while featuring the league's highest-rated passer (Alex Smith, who had a passer rating of 104.7). This year's unit should be even more dangerous. It boasts two 1,000-yard pass-catchers in Hill and Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce, the league's leading rusher from last season in Kareem Hunt and speedy wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who signed as a free agent in the offseason. Give that bunch a live-armed quarterback and it's easy to see what was apparent on Sunday: Kansas City could have the most dominant offense in the league.
Even Smith -- who was traded to Washington after enjoying the best season of his career -- has been startled by how gifted Mahomes is this early in his career. "He's a supernatural player," Smith said last month. "The stage is never too big for him. He's been that from the first day he walked into the building. You never got the best of him or saw him rattled when he made mistakes. That's important, because if you play long enough, you're going to do some things you regret."
Smith was most impressed by how adeptly Mahomes handles pressure. Reid saw that same combination of calm and confidence in his quarterback when he interviewed Mahomes prior to the 2017 draft. Reid is known for grilling prospective signal-callers, but Mahomes never cracked after talking Xs and Os for hours that day. In fact, when general manager Brett Veach, then the team's co-director of player personnel, peaked his head into Reid's office following that meeting, Reid just smiled and said, "You know, this kid is pretty smart."
Mahomes also has a knack for making things look easy. After he signed his contract last year, he hung out in the locker room as Veach gave his agents, Leigh Steinberg and Chris Cabott, a tour of the Chiefs' headquarters. When Veach finally made his way back to the locker room, he found Mahomes dribbling a basketball and chatting on his cell phone. Mahomes immediately looked over, sensed his party was ready to go and -- with the phone still pressed to his ear -- tossed the basketball into a hoop hanging on the wall nearly 20 feet away.