Just six weeks ago, the Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) suffered their only loss of the season, when the upstart Las Vegas Raiders (6-4) came into Arrowhead Stadium looking for trouble, winning the game 40-32 and subsequently taking a victory lap around the Chiefs’ home venue before heading to the Kansas City airport for the trip home.
A month-and-a-half later, Las Vegas used that same bravado to play the Chiefs tough once more in their home rematch with the defending Super Bowl champions. Derek Carr’s go-ahead touchdown pass to Jason Witten with 1:43 remaining in the game gave Vegas their fifth-lead of the night, 31-28.
But then, Patrick Mahomes happened.
Still, despite that fantastic lede, it wasn’t Mahomes’ vengeance that won the Chiefs their fifth straight game, it was his divine mastery of the Kansas City offense in limited time.
“I’ve got Pat Mahomes,” Andy Reid said after the game. “You give me a minute and a half and I’m pretty good right there. We can roll. I’d take him over everybody and I’m lucky to have him.”
The Chiefs are lucky indeed. Despite already garnering a 50-touchdown pass, NFL MVP season in Year 1 as a starter, and a Super Bowl MVP in Year 2, Mahomes is seemingly more efficient in Year 3, averaging 303.5 yards per game while throwing for 27 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, giving him a league-best 85.2 QBR as we enter Thanksgiving.
He’s already heaved a full highlight-tape worth of his “25 best throws” that make some of the most immaculate darts in history pale in comparison. So forgive me if I say I’m desensitized by some of his passes, because I shouldn’t be. But what stood out the most in his game-winning drive Sunday night — and what has this season — is his sheer control over the offense.
His pre-snap adjustments. The way he sees the defense both before and after the snap. He does it all with an effortless aura of confidence.
With just one timeout and only needing a field goal, the Chiefs must have churned out plays in just a few seconds. Nine yards to Tyreek Hill there, 16-yard throw to Mecole Hardman there, a 15-yard, zone-beating, beautiful anticipation throw to Travis Kelce over the middle of the field.
“There are steps,” Mahomes said of the game-wining drive. “The first step is to try to get into field goal range. Once we got into field goal range we still had some time left. I was hoping we had a couple of shots into the end zone.”
It seemed that Mahomes processed those steps at lightning speed, and with precision.
Those three consecutive aforementioned pass completions totaled 24 seconds from the end of the first one and the end of the last mentioned. By the end of the Kelce throw it was apparent that the Chiefs were not settling for a field goal, they were winning the game outright on a touchdown drive that spanned 75 yards on seven plays in 1:15, ending with Mahomes finding Kelce for a 22-yard touchdown with 28 seconds remaining in the game to give KC a permanent 35-31 lead.
The Raiders were so frustrated and confused that there was no one around Kelce on the score. It looked like a broken play or a play in which a play-stopping flag had been called mid-play.
Nope, just Mahomes using his all-time-best passing skills with a Peyton-Manning-level of leadership and recognition pre-snap, and a Tom Brady-level of coverage reading post-snap. And if he even needed it, he can be as accurate as Drew Brees while throwing on the run or across his body. The Aaron Rodgers throws we used to gush over have now become routine and almost unworthy of game highlights if a network is indeed cutting for time.
Mahomes’ library is full of highlight-worthy plays, but it’s his consistency and wise-beyond-his-years control of the game, and the Chiefs’ offense, that is so fascinating to watch.
At just 25 years old, he’s already polished, and he’s certainly in line for his second NFL MVP award in just three season as a starter.
Next up for the Chiefs, a possible Super Bowl preview in Tampa, the place where Super Bowl 55 will be held in February. Tom Brady — the quarterback’s legendary status that Mahomes is chasing — and the Buccaneers await.
“[Mahomes] is always ready for the moment,” Kelce said.
THE BETTER HALF
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-0) (Last week: 1). The Steelers have taken care of business these last two weeks versus lesser opponents. They have a chance to sweep their bitter rival, the Ravens, on Thanksgiving night. That should be enough to keep them motivated.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) (Last week: 2). As surreal as Mahomes and the Kansas City offense is, the defense is still a cause for concern. Can they hold up their end of the bargain enough in January for Kansas City to repeat as champions? I won’t be surprised either way.
3. New Orleans Saints (8-2) (Last week: 3). The Atlanta Falcons’ defense is no good, so skeptics can continue doubting Taysom Hill as a long-term option as a starting QB, for now. But it was mighty satisfying to see him play well with all the bizarre negativity surrounding him on NFL Twitter. I figured Sean Payton’s overall game plan on offense would be a bit gimmicky to adhere to Hill’s strengths, but they treated him like a traditional QB, using normal personnel and formations, and passing concepts. Kudos to Hill. They’ll need him to continue to play well with Drew Brees out for the foreseeable future (at least the next two weeks due to injured reserve rules), so the Saints can keep their lead on the Bucs and the rest of the NFC.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) (Last week: 4). The Rams present a challenge for Tom Brady. If Aaron Donald and others can get consistent pressure up the middle, this could be a low-scoring affair. I have confidence in the Bucs’ defense versus Jared Goff in a cross-country, nationally-televised road game, though.
5. Buffalo Bills (7-3) (Last week: 7). Due to a number of losses by teams in this part of the rankings, the Bills move up for now. They have to be happy about the Dolphins’ loss in Denver.
6. Indianapolis Colts (7-3) (Last week: 10). It seemed like they tried to give the game away in the final minutes of regulation, but they held on. That was a pretty important, 14-point comeback win over Green Bay in overtime. They play the Titans (7-3) at home this week, just 10 days after beating them in Tennessee. If they win, they’ll virtually hold a two-game lead in the AFC South. That’s huge.
7. Green Bay Packers (7-3) (Last week: 5). The defense is not very good, which makes me think they’ll meet their demise in the NFC divisional round or title game once more.
8. Seattle Seahawks (7-3) (Last week: 12). They have the inside track in the competitive NFC West after beating Arizona at home. They’ll go as far as Russell Wilson takes them.
9. Tennessee Titans (7-3) (Last week: 13). They have their issues, but they also have guts and moxie. That was a bad-blood game that started with Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh chirping at midfield before the game. It ended with Tennessee eliminating an 11-point lead in the final minutes to force overtime before winning on a lengthy Derrick Henry touchdown scamper. We could see this matchup again in a No. 3 vs No. 6 or No. 4 vs. No 5. wild card tilt in January. I’m all for it.
10. Baltimore Ravens (6-4) (Last week: 6). They are in trouble, but a favorable schedule down the stretch (after their meeting with the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night) should be enough to get them into the postseason.
11. Los Angeles Rams (6-3) (Last week: 11). If the Rams are to keep pace with the Seahawks in the NFC West, they may need to pull an upset in Tampa Bay tonight.
12. Miami Dolphins (6-4) (Last week: 8). That was an ugly offensive performance in Denver. Those will happen as Tua Tagovaoila acclimates to the NFL. No biggie on that front, but the loss does hurt. But no, it’s not time to give the starting job back to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
13. Arizona Cardinals (6-4) (Last week: 9). Their defense is a mess. It seems like all they can do is blitz and pray. Sometimes it works (in their overtime win over the Seahawks weeks ago) and sometimes it does not (their loss to Seattle last Thursday).
14. Las Vegas Raiders (6-4) (Last week: 14). They are fun team, and deserve some credit for their gradual turnaround these past few seasons, but they’re not there yet.
15. Cleveland Browns (7-3) (Last week: 15). They aren’t very good, but they have Myles Garrett on defense and can run the ball well. That will be enough to beat some teams. Until Baker Mayfield gets going, they won’t reach the level they seek, though. Still, 7-3 is nice for them.
16. Chicago Bears (5-5) (Last week: NR). As incompetent as the Bears are on offense, they get bumped back in after three 4-5 teams (heading into Week 11) in the Patriots, Vikings and Lions suffered extremely disappointing losses to subpar teams, watching their chances to pull even to .500 with a shot at the postseason dissipate.
Next up: New England, Minnesota, Carolina, Denver, Detroit