By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Six touchdown passes. Oh my. Will the meteoric rise of Patrick Mahomes — the new face of NFL quarterbacking, a fantasy darling! — ever slow down? Methinks not!
That is, perhaps, one reaction to the events of Monday night’s football contest between the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs, a back-and-forth high-scoring affair that was endlessly entertaining. Some people are saying it was the greatest regular-season game of all time. That’s high praise.
While that part of the equation can be debated and discussed (I’m personally partial to the Seahawks-Cardinals 6-6 tie from a couple of years back), I couldn’t help but come away from that game with a wild but honest opinion that, well … Patrick Mahomes kind of stunk.
Sorry to use a technical term like “stunk” there, but I can’t help it. Sure, 478 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, another 28 rushing yards to boot — that right there is the recipe for a hootenanny. And taken by itself, it would all serve as more evidence that this second-year player and first-year starter should be this year’s NFL MVP. (Tangent: Why does everyone on Twitter refer to Mahomes as a rookie? He’s not a rookie, Twitter. Read a book for me. At least read a Wikipedia.)
But, well, sorry, no. I can’t come away from that game thinking that the second-year sensation had a great game. That’s not some high-brow, holier-than-thou football commentary. It’s just common sense.
Let’s dive in. Perhaps you’ll see it too.
Following an opening drive that ended with a punt, the Chiefs rattled off three consecutive scoring drives to take a 17-16 lead in the first half. It was, as the kids say, on. But then, Aaron Donald happened.
On a second-and-8 at the Kansas City 22-yard line, the most disruptive force in football blew past guard Cam Erving and made a beeline for Mahomes. The quarterback felt the pressure and saw the pressure … but he didn’t escape the pressure. Which would have been OK, if he had just taken the sack. Instead, Mahomes kept his eyes down the field while separating the football from his body. This was a poor decision.
Donald easily swatted the ball directly out of Mahomes’ hand, and Samson Ebukam scooped and scored for the Rams’ first defensive touchdown of the night.
Strip sacks do happen, especially when Donald is involved. But the pocket awareness there was simply poor. There’s no other way to describe it.
You might think that such a flub by the presumed MVP of the league would have led to an increased awareness of No. 99 on the defense. You’d be wrong.
On the opening drive of the second half, Mahomes tried to escape pressure from Donald and once again held the ball out away from his body:
You’ll never guess what happened next.
The Rams turned that bonus possession into a touchdown.
In a game where literally every single possession was critical, the two fumbles were a major hit for Kansas City’s offense. One led to an immediate seven points, the other led to a delayed seven points. Quick math, and, yup, that’s 14 points.
Equally as bad as fumbles — perhaps worse than fumbles — are interceptions. Worse than interceptions are pick-sixes. (Or is it picks-six?)
So when the Chiefs basically earned a big-time W by holding the Rams to a field goal late in the third quarter, Mahomes took the field looking to put his team ahead. Instead he threw it directly at a football player who was wearing the brightest yellow football jersey in the history of yellow, football, and football jerseys.
It was, quite obviously, a tremendous play by Ebukam. Credit goes to him for finding a way to haul that thing in.
At the same time, it’s not as if Mahomes threw this ball high enough for it to ever be a possible completion. In fact, he hit his own offensive lineman right in the noggin.
Does a pass like that normally result in a pick, let alone a pick-six? No, not usually. But when you throw the ball directly into human bodies, you’re asking for trouble. File this one under “careless.” It led directly to a touchdown to stretch L.A.’s lead to 10.
(That’s 21 points off Mahomes turnovers, for those keeping a running tally.)
Fast-forward to the final minutes of the game, with the Chiefs trailing by three. Ebukam was busy bullying Travis Kelce to Mahomes’ right. In an ideal world, the quarterback would have seen this, then sprinted out to his right, either to run the ball himself (he had plenty of turf in front of him) or find an open receiver in a scramble drill. Mahomes could have run the ball and gotten the Chiefs into field-goal range or close to it. With three timeouts left, they would have had plenty of time to try to win the game or, at the very least, tie the game and send it to OT.
Instead Mahomes stepped up right into Ebukam. It was as if Mahomes had no idea that one lone rusher was disrupting his play, so the quarterback ended up making it very easy for Ebukam to get a hand (or two) on the throwing arm and disrupt the pass.
Lo and behold, the wobbler into traffic was picked off by Marcus Peters. With tremendous ease. The Chiefs lost the game.
That was a dreadful play by the quarterback.
Mahomes threw one more pick, a desperation heave really, with 20 seconds on the clock. This one need not be overanalyzed. Regardless, the chances of success on this pass were … zero percent?
With no timeouts, and with the Chiefs needing 40-plus yards to have a field goal prayer, Mahomes was just chucking this one down the field in hopes of something positive happen. Didn’t work out.
Lazy analysts around the country all unanimously agreed before this game kicked off to utter the following line: I’ll tell you what, [co-host name], I think the team that wins this here football game will be the team that has the football last. It feels like one of those types of NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE games where the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE team that has the last possession of the NATIONAL FOOTBALL will come away with a NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE victory.
Well, trailing by just three points, Mahomes and the Chiefs had the chance to be that last team with the football. In fact, they had two chances to be the last team with the football. Ergo, they had two chances to win the game. At the very least, they needed only to get into Harrison Butker’s field goal range to potentially send that game into overtime — which is something that probably everybody on Earth would have enjoyed watching.
Alas, that never happened. We know already that the Chiefs’ final drive ended with the pick on the desperation heave, but the roots for failure were laid out earlier in that drive. With just one timeout in their pocket, here’s what Andy Reid’s offense did:
First-and-10, KC 12, :50, Fourth Quarter: Incomplete pass to Travis Kelce, over the middle
Second-and-10, KC 12, :46, Fourth Quarter: Completion to Kelce, short middle, gain of 8 yards
Third-and-2, KC 20, :30, Fourth Quarter: Completion to Chris Conley, short middle, gain of 6 yards
First-and-10, KC 26, :25, Fourth Quarter: Interception, deep right
The desperation heave was ugly, but it might not have been necessary if Mahomes had been capable of engineering a more effective drive. Instead, the quarterback only targeted receivers in the middle of the field — receptions the Rams were more than happy to allow, with so little time on the clock.
Mahomes’ completion to Kelce ended up draining a third of the remaining time left on the clock, all to gain just eight yards. Following that up with a six-yard pass in the middle of the field forced the Chiefs to burn their final timeout. The sidelines, they remained lonely that night. Mahomes only had eyes for the hash marks.
While it’s possible and perhaps likely that Andy Reid (a man with some clock management issues in his history) and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy deserve a share of the blame for that drive, there’s no denying that this was not a drive led by a quarterback who fully understood every factor at play. The clock, the timeouts, the middle of the field, the deep chuck to nobody — it was a bit of a frenetic ending, one that didn’t need to be quite that chaotic.
While it would have taken a great effort with great execution for the Chiefs to manufacture a 50-second game-tying drive, it certainly could have gone a lot smoother than the way it played out with Mahomes. He never even gave them a chance.
Despite the miscues and costly mistakes, Mahomes had himself a statistical night, as evidenced by his 117.6 passer rating. Somehow that was better than counterpart Jared Goff’s passer rating of 117.1, despite Goff throwing four touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Regardless of passer rating or any other stat, it’s clear that Mahomes did a lot of things right on Monday evening in Los Angeles. It was quite the show. But had he just done some simple things — protect the football, have some feel for a pass rush, understand the clock and timeouts — then it feels as though Mahomes could have led the Chiefs to a mostly comfortable victory.