Patrick Mahomes and the Promised Land

I’ve been fooled by my beloved Kansas City Chiefs more times than I can count. My first real NFL memory came in 1998, when as a 7 year-old I listened on the radio as the Chiefs lost on a late drive to the John Elway-led Broncos in the playoffs. I remember sitting in the backseat, all bummed out for Sports Fan reasons I didn’t yet understand, while my mom drove to the airport to pick up my grandma. It was raining outside.

Despite such an inauspicious welcoming to the world of pro football, the Chiefs have been a solid franchise over the last 20 years. They’ve won the AFC West four times, they’ve made the playoffs seven times, and they’ve been the home of several household names. I can’t really argue with any of that, or for my decision as a seven year-old to arbitrarily like Kansas City simply because the Royals were the first Little League Baseball team I played on.

What’s been illusive to the Chiefs — and more importantly, me — is not success during the regular season, but rather translating that success into real, actual playoff wins. Kansas City’s seven postseason trips over the last two decades have come under the leadership of four separate coaching regimes — Dick Vermeil, Herm Edwards, Todd Haley, and Andy Reid — and three different quarterbacks — Trent Green, Matt Cassell, and Alex Smith — but have all the same resulted in only one playoff win, a 30-0 drubbing of the Houston Texans in 2015. Regardless of the Head Coach/QB duo the Chiefs have met the same underwhelming fate.

In theory that was all supposed to change in 2018, as Kansas City traded their sure thing of a quarterback — Alex Smith — and replaced him with second-year wunderkind Patrick Mahomes II. The hope was for Mahomes to unlock the potential of the Chiefs’ talent positions, from running back Kareem Hunt, to tight end Travis Kelce, to wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. Under Alex Smith the Chiefs had themselves a steady 10-win team; under Mahomes, there was reason to dream bigger.

Purely from the perspective of winning right now I thought trading Alex Smith was a mistake. From my February article I wrote:

Analyzing the NFL is not my specialty, but I do think there’s a better-than-not chance that this trade backfires on the Chiefs and that Pat Mahomes will eventually end Andy Reid’s stint as head coach.

There isn’t a font I can use, or a button I can press, to put enough emphasis on the first seven words of that sentence. To be sure: the NFL is not my bag, and never have I pretended it was. It seems like every article I write that has anything to do with pro football, or predicting which teams will win on a given Sunday, is coupled by an avalanche of caveats and disclaimers. I am, however, big enough to admit when I’m wrong. And this appears to be one of those times.

After two games the Chiefs are 2-0, and Patrick Mahomes has passed for a composite 607 yards and 10 touchdowns. He broke the record of passing TDs by any quarterback after two games, vaulting over Drew Brees and Peyton Manning (tied with 9 apiece) in the process. Extrapolated over an entire year Kansas City would theoretically finish 16-0, and Mahomes would generate nearly 5,000 passing yards and own an immaculate TD/INT ratio of 80/0.

That obviously won’t happen, but the fact that a brand new starter has basically been perfect for two weeks is remarkable.

Now, I wonder why I was so against the idea of Patrick Mahomes in the first place. In retrospect, I think it had to do with the Identity Politics angle of evaluating quarterbacks. The first red flag in my mind must’ve been that Mahomes played QB at Texas Tech, and the lack of success that spread option, “system QBs,” typically have in the NFL. The second red flag must’ve been some random article I read that said Mahomes was a good runner, and I thought about how running quarterbacks generally have less success than do pocket passers at the next level. The third red flag must’ve been that he isn’t very tall, only about 6’1″, and shorter quarterbacks usually have less success than taller ones.

This was all heaped on top of the reality that Alex Smith was consistently delivering 10-win campaigns, which is not something to be taken for granted. It isn’t uncommon for fan bases to grow loathsome of their team’s middling quarterback, only to realize that the guy they replace him with is even worse. Luckily for me, Andy Reid and the Chiefs front office knew a significant amount more than I did. Patrick Mahomes looks every bit like the real deal.

Expectations can be kind of a dangerous thing; when you have none, you are pretty much OK with anything; when you do have them, it leaves a lot of room for disappointment. It all goes back to those stupid hypotheticals asking would you rather be ignorant and happy or aware and unhappyWould you rather make it to the top of the mountain and fall, or never make it in the first place? 

Patrick Mahomes is that man, scaling up that mountain, and with him he carries all the hopes and dreams of a fan base that haven’t won a Super Bowl since before the roman numerals made it to V. I have been a Chiefs fan for almost 20 years, and the best my favorite team has done over that span is make it to the AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs.

But, you know, the journey is the destination. All that shit. Even after only two weeks Patrick Mahomes looks like the best quarterback the franchise has had since the twilight of Joe Montana’s career, which predates not only my experience following the Chiefs but of my knowledge of football existing at all. That is reason enough to get excited.

The only downside to Mahomes perceived greatness — I have to keep stressing it’s only been two weeks — is that making the playoffs may no longer be good enough. In the business this is known as one of those “good problems.” Of course that means fuck all if Pat has to go through New England and Pittsburgh to make it to the Super Bowl, but the fact that it’s even on the table, as something the Chiefs could accomplish under ideal circumstances, has completely reinvigorated my love for the sport.

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