In his three-plus years in the National Football League, there isn’t much Patrick Mahomes hasn’t done as the quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs.
In his second season, Mahomes became just the second player in history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns and was named MVP. In his third season, he led the Chiefs to their first championship in 50 years and was named the MVP of Super Bowl LIV.
That 10-year, $450 million contract wasn’t so bad, either.
By most measures, Mahomes is the best quarterback in the league—maybe the best in a generation. But Monday night in Buffalo, we witnessed something that might be even scarier than watching him whip off-balance lasers all over the field. Something that should terrify the snot out of every other team in the league.
Against a one-loss Buffalo Bills team that is widely considered a Super Bowl contender, the Chiefs didn’t need Mahomes to stand on his head to win. Not even a little bit.
This isn’t to say that Mahomes played poorly. Far from it—he completed 21 of 26 passes for 225 yards and a pair of scoring strikes to two-time All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce.
That’s a passer rating of 128.4, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
Still, it wasn’t Mahomes who was the star for the Chiefs offense. That honor went to rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Against a defense that was apparently in terror of being beaten over the top by Mahomes and speedster Tyreek Hill, Edwards-Helaire gashed his way to 161 yards on 26 carries. All told, the Chiefs peeled off a staggering 245 rushing yards on 46 carries.
That’s right—the Chiefs gained more yards on the ground than through the air. Per Joe Buck of Fox Sports during Monday’s telecast, those 46 carries marked the most by an Andy Reid-coached team.
As Next Gen Stats pointed out, Edwards-Helaire saw “light” boxes (six or fewer defenders) with regularity. And the LSU product feasted when he did.
Now, the Bills weren’t playing like that because they enjoyed watching Edwards-Helaire pick up six yards and change every time he touched the football. They did so because they were afraid that if they loaded the box in an effort to stuff the run, Mahomes would find Hill, Demarcus Robinson or Mecole Hardman over the top.
But that’s the thing. That’s the meat-grinder that Reid and Mahomes have created in Kansas City. You don’t dare crowd the line of scrimmage for fear of being destroyed by the vertical passing game. So, you play off the line, leave your safeties deep and hope against hope that you can contain a ground game that has been inconsistent this year, just as it was last year.
If that ground game can get going at a level that’s anything close to the passing game, that’s it. Game over. You’re the toastiest of toast. Defenses will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. As Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star noted, Mahomes said the Chiefs are going to take what defenses give them.
“If teams are going to play us like this, you’re going to see us running the football, and we have the guys who can do it,” the 25-year-old said.
“… Clyde was running well. O-line was blocking well. I just want to win. I don’t care how it’s done—pass, run, defense, whatever that is. We found a way to do that.”
The scariest part might be that one of those players who can run the ball hasn’t even taken the field for the Chiefs yet.
Le’Veon Bell’s tenure with the New York Jets was 12 kinds of ugly. He averaged more weekly dustups with head coach Adam Gase than he did yards per carry (3.3) in one-plus season with Gang Green. But New York is also a dysfunctional mess right now, as opposed to the finely tuned machine chewing up opponents out of Kansas City.
Given all the eight- and nine-man fronts Bell saw with New York, he might not know what to do with himself if the entire defense isn’t within two yards of the line of scrimmage.
It’s also worth mentioning the Kansas City defense held up its end of the bargain Monday. Heading into the contest, the Bills were fifth in the league in total offense (401.8 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (27.8 points per game).
Buffalo had 206 yards and 17 points. It marked the fifth time in six games that the Chiefs have limited their opponents to 20 or fewer points. Four of those games were against teams that made the postseason last year.
It’s borderline unfair how good this team is.
There will still be deep rainbows to Hill, Hardman and Sammy Watkins. And throws over the middle to Kelce, who seemingly can’t be covered regardless of what opponents try. And ridiculous scrambles and throws by Mahomes like one Monday.
Whatever. No one likes a show-off, Patrick.
And there could well come a time in the playoffs against a team such as the Steelers or Baltimore Ravens when the Chiefs need Mahomes to carry them. That’s the reason for that, um, robust salary.
The defense is light-years better than it was two years ago. If Monday night was any indication, the ground game is showing similar improvement relative to last year. There’s nothing the Chiefs can’t do well.
Kansas City has an MVP quarterback. But it doesn’t need Mahomes to play at an MVP level to beat good teams with regularity.
And there may well not be a danged thing the rest of the league can do to stop it.