hen opposing NFL defenses started preventing the long ball for the Kansas City Chiefs offense in 2021, the defending AFC champions struggled. That led to the team’s 3-4 start to the regular season, and NFL pundits speculating that quarterback Patrick Mahomes was “broken.”
Through the first seven games, Mahomes had nine interceptions, which was just three short of his career-high in a single season (12). The Chiefs offense, in general, was bad, as the unit had the highest percentage of drives resulting in a turnover in the league through eight weeks, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk.
So, Mahomes wasn’t the only thing holding back a typically high-powered offense. Sloppy play — which included 19 dropped passes through nine weeks of the regular season — also held the offense back significantly.
But things changed for Kansas City’s offense, and it all started on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on November 1.
The Chiefs beat the New York Giants 20-17 that day, and from that game onward Mahomes has had 2,476 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, and four interceptions, per Pro Football Reference. Kansas City then went on an eight-game win streak which ended in Week 18’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
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The offense did struggle on several occasions during the win streak, but there was an improvement by Mahomes and the entire unit as their philosophy began morphing from a big-play offense to one that’s consistently happy with the short pass.The Chiefs’ defense has drastically improved from their horrendous start to the season as well, which helped pick up the slack when the offense went stagnant.
Amid a roller-coaster season for Kansas City, Mahomes has experienced an immense amount of growth as an NFL quarterback in his fifth year. And what does he think is the biggest reason for the growth?
Mahomes: ‘I’ve Just Learned to be Patient’
“I mean first off, I don’t know what personal challenge, but I think the biggest area of growth is that I’ve just learned to be patient. I’ve learned to take what’s there, take the underneath stuff, probably the most I’ve ever thrown to the running backs and stuff like that. I have such an aggressive nature and want to push the ball down the field, but defenses have forced me to learn how to drive the length of the field and I think we’ve done a great job of that as the season’s gone on,” Mahomes said during his press conference on Tuesday, January 4.
“We’ve made a lot of big drives happen and drove the length of the field, but we haven’t lost our explosiveness and when defenses do present man coverage or safety middle zone coverage where they come down and give us a chance to throw it deep, I think we’re still hitting those,” Mahomes continued. “Finding that right balance, I think that’s been a big growth for me to learn to take what’s there but keep that aggressiveness.”
Chiefs’ O-Line Benefitting Mahomes Greatly
Another large factor that has played into Mahomes’ success as the season progresses is the play — and Mahomes’ familiarity — of the newly-revamped offensive line.
With five new starters along the offensive line this season — which includes a shuffling of starters at right tackle — the Chiefs’ star QB has needed ample reps with the guys in the trenches in order to become fully comfortable in the pocket. Their time spent together over the course of the season has been evident with steadily improved play.
Rookie center Creed Humphrey is PFF’s highest-graded center in the NFL through 17 weeks (91.6), starting left guard Joe Thuney is a top-10 guard by PFF’s standards, and rookie right guard Trey Smith is top-20. Starting left tackle Orlando Brown has been selected to the third Pro Bowl of his four-year career. Thuney and Smith are Pro Bowl alternates, and Humphrey was one of the biggest snubs.
“First off I’ve gotten more familiar with the offensive line in general,” Mahomes said when asked if he feels he has improved his pocket presence. “Just being able to play behind those guys, go to battle with them, getting a good feel for them definitely helps out a ton. I think I’ve just continued to work on the fundamentals.
“Coach (Mike) Kafka has really kind of engrained that in me as the season’s gone on and I think I’ve gotten better as of late because of that. Trying to figure out that right balance of when to scramble and run and do that stuff and when to stay in the pocket and make the throw is something I’ll always work on. Definitely think I’ve gotten better as these weeks have gone on.”