After defeating the Los Angeles Chargers 23-20 in overtime, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes improved to 9-0 in September.
Arguably the best player in the NFL today, Mahomes has 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions during his two-and-a-half-plus seasons as a starting quarterback in September.
But this one was his toughest victory yet.
Mahomes had just 60 yards passing in the first half, which was his lowest mark in a first half during his young NFL career.
But with protection issues, receivers dropping passes and Mahomes himself admittedly being a bit off, he resorted to running.
“Patrick made some nice plays with his legs,” head coach Andy Reid said.
Using his legs, Mahomes led the team with 54 yards rushing during the entire game.
That’s a formula that has proven successful against the Chargers. During last year’s 24-17 victory against them in Mexico City, Mahomes led the Chiefs with five carries for 59 yards.
During Sunday’s come-from-behind victory, he converted four first downs on runs, including a 21-yard rush right down the center of the defense on 3rd and 20 with 54 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
“If teams are going to stay back and guard our receivers,” Mahomes said, “I’m going to find ways with my feet to make stuff happen.”
His best run showed his awareness as he realized the Chargers’ emphasis on playing coverage was giving him an open running lane.
But his best pass came with 12:48 left in regulation. He rolled to his right, avoided the pressure of linebacker Denzel Perryman bearing down on him and threw a laser to a double-covered Tyreek Hill, who had been mostly bottled up to that point, for the 54-yard touchdown.
Reid called it a “spectacular” throw, but Mahomes praised his target.
“I put it out there as far as I can,” Mahomes said. “And Tyreek made a heck of a catch.”
Those highlight reel passes and clutch fourth-quarter plays are why the Chiefs gave Mahomes the most lucrative contract in sports.
Mahomes, who turned 25 last week, has a 10-year, $450 million deal that expires after the 2031 season.
It’s a contract worthy of someone who was MVP and Super Bowl MVP in his first two years as the starter.
But if the Chiefs want to repeat as Super Bowl champions, there is much they must clean up.
“We come out of it with a ton of room to improve,” Reid said. “Things weren’t going well for us on either side of the ball, but the guys rallied.”
Much of the reason Mahomes struggled at first was due to the Chargers’ pressure and the difficulty the Chiefs offensive line had blocking the Los Angeles pass rushers, including Joey Bosa, whose brother, Nick, similarly frustrated the Chiefs early in Super Bowl LIV.
Using just a four-man rush, the Chargers had six pressures on the Chiefs’ first 15 dropbacks and hit Mahomes seven times during the game.
Mitchell Schwartz, one of the best offensive tackles in the game, gave up a sack for the second consecutive week.
A familiar foe from early last season also reared its head. The Chargers used their running backs via both rushes and short passes to dominate the time of possession.
Partly by running the ball 44 times for 188 yards, Los Angeles had the ball more than 10 minutes than the Chiefs did, and that includes 10:21 of the 15-minute fourth quarter.
A slew of missed tackles by the Chiefs, including one by their best defensive player, Chris Jones, aided the Chargers. Austin Ekeler should’ve been tackled for a loss on 2nd and 3. Instead he spun away from Jones and got to the Chiefs’ 10-yard line. The Chargers scored their second touchdown four plays later.
The Chiefs, though, overcame those obstacles — in part due to two 58-yard field goals by Harrison Butker — to reach 2-0 and at least a tie for first place in the AFC West (pending the outcome of the Las Vegas Raiders’ Monday Night Football contest.)
“It was a tough team win,” Reid said. “I was proud of our guys for battling through.”