Notes From A Crumbling NFL Empire: Part V

Kansas City Chiefs 13, Green Bay Packers 7

It’s remarkable how the Chiefs are 5-4, in the thick of race to win the AFC, and most people I see on TV and talk to at work are solidly convinced they are dead. It’s impossible to ignore how broken they appear to be on offense, how Patrick Mahomes looks nothing like himself, how Andy Reid has seemingly lacked imagination, and how the defense can’t stop good teams from scoring on them. Everything is wrong. Nothing feels right.

Yet here they are with 5 wins and 4 losses. The two teams tied for the AFC West lead, the Chargers and Raiders, each have 5 wins and 3 losses. Most things that could go wrong have, and even when things have been going right they invariably get negated by an untimely turnover in the red zone, or an untimely defensive holding or pass interference call on third down. Still: 5 wins, 4 losses.

Were the Chiefs anyone else a 5-4 mark wouldn’t be worth droning on about, but Kansas City entered the year from such a high point that it feels like an extreme disappointment. In my last article in this series I wondered aloud about the truth of the 2021 season, whether it was a personnel problem, plain bad luck, or a dream that they have yet to snap out of. This week’s win against a Packers’ team who were without their starting quarterback brought everyone a little closer to that truth, but it might actually end up being encouraging.

Patrick Mahomes plays quarterback. Quarterback is the most important position on the field. And Patrick hasn’t been very good this season. But that hasn’t been the case for the whole season, just recently. Below are his numbers through the first four weeks of the year:

102-141 (72.3%), 1,218 yards (8.64 yards per attempt), 14/4 TD/INT, 77.6 QBR

And now his numbers from Week 5 through Week 9:

134-221 (60.6%), 1,316 (5.95 YPA), 6/6 TD/INT, 32.9 QBR

The most telling of these numbers can be seen in yards per attempt. Through the first four weeks Mahomes generated an average of about 8.6 yards per throw, good for a tie for 4th in the NFL (behind, or along with, household names like Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford). In other words: it’s a borderline MVP rate.

But then you look at his average between Weeks 5-9 — where the number capsizes to a putrid 5.95 YPA — which would rank 32nd out of 33 qualifying QBs. In fact, the only quarterback that number is better than is Jacoby Brissett, who’s a backup for the Dolphins.

On the season Mahomes averages 7 yards per attempt, putting him in a tie for 21st in the NFL. In the previous three years, each resulting in the Chiefs making the AFC Championship, he ranked 4th (2020), 4th (2019) and 1st (2018), and each season he produced a YPA figure north of 8.1. The difference between those two numbers is the difference between being elite and being merely average.

The fact that Patrick Mahomes has been “just” average has become the story of the Chiefs season. Naturally he has already proven that he is capable of doing what no one else can at the QB position, which is why in spite of the uneasiness it brings Kansas City fans to see him devolve from alien to human, it does deliver some sense of peace that, in theory, all he has to do is turn back into himself for the Chiefs to turn into the Chiefs again.

I would stray away from quoting me on any of this shit, for I am simply a close observer who tries not to freak out whether things are going really well or really poorly. Despite all the narratives about the defense being horrible, they have put together 10 pretty solid quarters — starting with shutting out Tennessee in the second half, to allowing 17 points and only a few big plays against the Giants, to holding a backup QB to just 7 points. It isn’t great and wasn’t supposed to be, but if they creep back towards average while the offense gets back on its feet, we will again be talking about one of the two or three best teams in the NFL.

And that’s on Patrick Mahomes. You don’t love it that the most important player on the field is the one experiencing the most difficulty. You don’t love it that his performance, or lack thereof, is the driving force behind Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill — the second and third most important players on the field — having diminished performances themselves. And you don’t love it that the Chiefs are forced to figure it all out in a logjam of a division with the toughest remaining schedule in the league.

But if you are going to put it on anybody, I am going to have to be okay with it being Patrick Mahomes. He is the entire reason the Chiefs have been relevant for the last four years, and there is still no one else in the world who you would rather have with the ball in his hands.

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