Ed Zurga/Associated Press
It’s not exactly breaking news that the Kansas City Chiefs are an excellent offensive football team. Or that Patrick Mahomes is one of the best quarterbacks in the game. Last year, no team in the league averaged more yards per game, and only five averaged more points per contest.
But in a blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, both Mahomes and the Chiefs offense looked average. Mortal.
Well, if Friday’s preseason finale against the Minnesota Vikings was any indication, Mahomes and the Chiefs have shaken off the stink of that loss and ready to roll against the Cleveland Browns at Arrowhead Sept. 12 in Week 1’s marquee matchup.
In the team’s second preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, Mahomes looked like a quarterback shaking off the rust. He was 10-of-18 for 78 yards with an interception. But it didn’t take long against Minnesota to see that this game would be different. His first pass attempt of the night was a 28-yard strike to All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce. His second was a 35-yard dagger to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown.
That is a distressingly familiar (and essentially undefendable) sight for AFC defenses.
The second drive of the night wasn’t quite as quick as the first. But it ended the same way—with Mahomes finding tight end Blake Bell for a five-yard score to put the Chiefs up 14-3.
That was the end of Mahomes’ night—and his preseason. But it should be enough to keep Cleveland defensive coordinator Joe Woods up at night.
Mahomes finished the night 8-of-9 for 117 yards and two scores with a perfect passer rating of 158.3 and the preseason 19-of-29 for 199 yards, two scores, a pick and a passer rating of 93.9. On some level, it’s surprising Mahomes attempted 29 passes in the preseason at all, but after the Arizona game, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said (via Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports) he wanted to get Mahomes settled in behind Kansas City’s new-look offensive line.
“I think it’s good for Pat, but I also think it’s good for the offensive line and Pat to see how that’s going to work and get a feel for them, and for them to get a feel for him likewise,” Reid said. “We’ve got some young guys, so I left them in with Chad (Henne) so they could get a little bit more extended work there. We’ve got two veterans on the left side, but all five of them are new, so you need to play and this gives us that opportunity.”
That new-look line may be just as big a factor in how Kansas City’s 2021 season unfolds as the team’s star quarterback. Mahomes was harassed relentlessly by the Buccaneers in that Super Bowl loss, scrambling for a jaw-dropping 497 yards before throws or sacks. Repairing that line was the team’s biggest offseason priority, and it was one Chiefs GM Brett Veach attacked ferociously in free agency, the draft and with the trade that brought tackle Orlando Brown to town.
That line is now completely different from the one that struggled so badly in the Super Bowl, and surprisingly it will feature three starters in 2021 who have never played an NFL snap in a game that counts. Rookie Creed Humphrey (a second-round pick in 2021) will start at center. Sixth-rounder Trey Smith will open at right guard. Right tackle Lucas Niang (who unseated veteran Mike Remmers) was drafted in 2020 but opted out of his rookie season over concerns about COVID-19.
The trio may lack NFL experience, but per ESPN’s Adam Teicher Reid said those youngsters have shown him they can play.
“They came from teams that threw the ball,” Reid said. “So, they’ve got an understanding of the pass game. I’ve mentioned this before, but these college kids coming out of these offenses where they are throwing the ball helps them at this level. You can see that with them. At the same time, they’re doing a pretty good job in the run game.”
Now, it can be awfully difficult to use preseason action as a barometer for line success—neither the O-line nor the defenses they face are pulling out all the proverbial stops and using every trick in the arsenal. But over the course of those 29 pass attempts in the preseason, Mahomes was sacked exactly zero times and was rarely pressured.
Ed Zurga/Associated Press
We might not know for sure how the offensive line will hold up in the long-term (although if one of the youngsters falters there are proven veterans like Remmers and center Austin Blythe behind them), but there’s one thing we absolutely know.
If Mahomes has time to throw the ball, he will 100 percent carve opponents into tiny pieces, in part because the Chiefs are loaded with skill-position talent.
Kelce is the gold standard at his position, with five straight seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards. Hill has tallied over 1,100 receiving yards in three of the past four seasons and might be the most dangerous downfield receiver in the NFL.
Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle may not be stars, but when left in single coverage (as they are just about all the time) they can make opponents pay. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a first-round talent who should benefit from facing defenses that know if they stack the box Mahomes will shred them that much more quickly.
Oh, and Mahomes is (and I do not say this lightly) a Hall of Fame-caliber talent with 114 touchdown passes, an MVP award, a Super Bowl title and a ridiculous record of 38-8 as a starter over his first four seasons.
He’s pretty good at the whole throwing a football thing.
Again, none of this is breaking news. Despite getting pummeled in the Super Bowl, the two-time defending AFC champions were almost universally regarded as the favorites to represent the conference in a third straight Super Bowl. But given what happened in their last game that mattered, there was at least a flicker of doubt that maybe the team wasn’t the overwhelming favorite to make it to Los Angeles.
That flicker was doused in about a quarter on Friday night.
Best of luck to you, Cleveland. You’re going to need it.