The sound overwhelms everything as more than 70,000 people cheer with reckless abandon. That team pride the city shows for the Chiefs makes Arrowhead one of the toughest road matchups in the NFL. This passion feeds that team. And to their superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, it confirms that KC is where he’s meant to play.
“The first time I ever ran out the tunnel in front of that crowd, to hear the eruption of that crowd that first time, it was almost like it was quiet because it was so loud, if that makes any sense.”
This is Mahomes’ memory of the first time he took the field at Arrowhead as starting QB. It was just Week 3 of the 2018 NFL season, but Mahomes was already super sharp, with an astounding 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first two games. The fans welcomed this effort the best way they know how.
“You couldn't even hear anything. You were just kind of enjoying the moment, and it was a surreal feeling, and I'll never forget it. I know every single year it's gonna be like that, we're gonna go out and try to win those games at Arrowhead and protect that house.”
The Chiefs would win that first home game 38-27 with Mahomes notching another three TDs with no turnovers. It was a great start to what would become an MVP-level season, and one that would get Mahomes on the cover of Madden NFL 20.
Big play after big play, it became increasingly difficult to classify Mahomes as inexperienced. In his first season as a starter, second in the NFL, Mahomes displayed a seasoned awareness that not many players can match. To pair with all this, he also has a unique skill set which allows him to deliver in unique ways, expanding previous conceptions to what’s possible in the position.
One play, out of many, that defines Mahomes versatility came on the road in Denver, where he faced the biggest defensive challenge of his young career. Kansas City was down 20-23 with just 3:15 left to play. The Chiefs were in shotgun. A blown block leaves former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller untouched, with a clear line to the QB.
“I scrambled to the left, and I could just feel [Miller] right behind me and knew if I went to throw it with my right hand that he would strip it from me. So, my receiver was a couple yards in front of me, and I knew that I could get it to him with the left hand. If you ever get the ball in his hands, you're usually in a good situation. I kind of shot-putted it with my left hand. My receiver got the ball, got the first down in a crucial drive, and we ended up going down and scoring.”
In just one play, Mahomes showed not only the physical ability to make an off-hand throw, but to escape one of the league’s best linebackers, all while recognizing the need to protect the ball with his body. From this point forward, nobody viewed Mahomes as just a big arm with an explosive playbook, but as a glimpse into what QBs will look like in an evolving game.
His absurd talent is matched by his keen field awareness, pocket presence, and overall approach to the game. Mahomes is a passer that can make any throw and can effectively improvise when things don’t go as planned. This includes the left-handed passes and no-look throws that populate his already substantial resume. Mahomes admits that his unique vision on the field helps create these game-changing plays, but it’s also something that’s gotten him into trouble.
“I see stuff that sometimes I'm not really supposed to see, and I might take that chance that we might not necessarily need at that moment. That's stuff that I have to learn as my career goes on, when to go after that big play, and when to take what's there. I think I balanced that well this first year starting, and now I'm going keep trying to get better and better at that as my career goes on.”
There’s a key note here. First year. Mahomes took over the reins of the Kansas City offense after spending his rookie season behind Alex Smith. Smith and the Chiefs parted ways, leaving Mahomes at the helm of an offense with explosive potential. But still, even as a rookie, Mahomes prepped for games just like he would as a starter.
“I was lucky enough that Alex was in front of me. He was a great person, a great human being, and great leader on the team who let me learn from him in any way possible. Answered all my questions, just was a good dude. Whenever I got the opportunity to become a starting quarterback, I just kept doing what I was doing the year before. I kept pushing myself every single day to get better.”
That’s a consistent trope from professional athletes. The constant need to improve and get better. That’s how they’re able to accomplish the physical and mental challenges required to get to that level. Mahomes himself is laser-focused in that regard. Which is a scary notion considering he’s already earned MVP honors in just a single season as a starter. It’s an award that the young QB admits has yet to completely sink in, but that laser focus quickly breaks through any dwelling on it, as the siren call of a Lombardi Trophy beckons. It narrowly escaped his grasp after falling to the New England Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship game. That’s the ultimate goal that clearly still nags at Chiefs’ signal caller.
“Yeah, it hurt. If anyone told you it didn't, then they were lying. Being that close, one play away from getting to the Super Bowl, that's just how it is sometimes. So now, it's about finding ways so that next time we are the team that's scoring that touchdown and winning that football game at the right moment. That's stuff that you have to work on throughout the offseason in order to have success in the season and in the playoffs.”
Mahomes is now the eighth QB to grace the Madden cover, and the first in a Chiefs uniform. It’s yet another award he has trouble absorbing, recalling memories as a kid of anxiously waiting to find out who the next cover athlete was going to be. Following names like Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb, Mahomes makes yet another cover athlete to be coached under Andy Reid, who has had a hand in developing the young QB.
“The thing that [Coach Reid] does the best for me is he always challenges me. He is always gonna boost you up and help you and put you in the right position. But he's gonna make sure that I'm on top of everything. He's gonna challenge me in the meeting room. He's gonna challenge me in the film room, and he's gonna challenge me at practice to be the best I can be. I think that's what gets the best out of me, and has allowed me to have so much success so early in my career.”
Let’s breakdown that success real quick. Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions. He’s the youngest player to win NFL MVP honors since Dan Marino in 1984. He also threw for 5,097 yards. In the history of the NFL, there’s only been seven QBs to ever accomplish that.
Not to overstate the fact, but Mahomes did this his first season as a starter, establishing himself as not only an elite athlete, but as the new gold standard of the QB position.
“I mean, I feel like I'm just that same old guy,” said Mahomes regarding his early success. “The same guy that's been putting in the time and the work to go out there and just have fun with his teammates. I mean, that's the biggest thing, I'm going out there and having fun. I have a lot of great guys around me and we've had a lot of success together so far, but this is just the beginning. We'll keep going and keep grinding, try to keep getting better.”
This is what sets Mahomes apart from the rest. His drive to win. He doesn’t dismiss the accolades he’s received in any way, but in the end, they’re not the goal. Despite the overall success he’s had in his early career, the after effects of that playoff loss are still lingering. But as many great athletes, Mahomes is choosing to press on.
“You use that stuff as motivation. You use every loss as motivation to get better. It just gave me an extra drive and extra motivation for this off season to not be satisfied with where I'm at. To get those extra reps, to get that extra workout in, and to do whatever it takes in order to not have that feeling again.”
The rest of the NFL better be ready. Mahomes is.
- Written by Daniel Williams