Weather Alert

Mahomes Report: AFC Championship Game

Welcome to the Mahomes Report, a weekly breakdown of what Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes did, either good or bad, during the most recent Chiefs game. For past editions, click here.

Agony only begins to describe it.

Chiefs fans have been through a lot, but the 2018 AFC Championship Game is one that’s going to sting for a long time. The defense didn’t play well, the offense started slow and, by the time the likely league MVP caught fire and started tearing up the Patriots’ secondary, he was rendered useless, stuck on the sideline as New England plowed ahead for a game-winning score in overtime with little resistance from the defense.

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to the loss. The team came a long way from tempered expectations at the start of the year. And, above anything, the next face of the NFL came into his own.

Patrick Mahomes threw for 230 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. He was as magical as he almost always is, and it’s worth revisiting his performance from Sunday in spite of the pain the game caused. It was a special season and the franchise did all he could to keep it going.

THE GOOD

Comp. % Yards TD INT Rate
51.6 295 3 0 117.0

For the first time this year, the Chiefs were held scoreless in the first half on Sunday. Mahomes got rolling in the second half though, starting with a deep bomb to Sammy Watkins.

It didn’t happen as often as it needed to this week, but for this play the offensive line held up well and gave Mahomes plenty of time. What is one universal fact we know by now? If he’s got time, he’ll create a play and tear you to shreds. That’s what Mahomes accomplished here, as he had plenty of time to allow Watkins to work deep and get past his defender. Mahomes calmly slides to his right as the pressure starts to come from his left, then ignites the cannon and makes a beautiful throw to Watkins. He had some forward momentum into the throw, which helped guarantee enough power to get it to the target.

One play later, Kansas City cashed in for the first of four team touchdowns.

Travis Kelce didn’t have a particularly great day in the AFC Championship Game, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your coverage on him. The Patriots are playing man on this play and Kelce only gets one man’s attention. If you’ve been following along all season, you know Mahomes will take advantage of that. He throws it perfectly, leading Kelce away from Stephon Gilmore (24) and allowing him to use his big body to make a play on the ball. Flawless execution by the quarterback and tight end.

While the first half was devoid of almost any excitement for Kansas City fans, there was one drive in which Mahomes got to bust out and thrill the Arrowhead faithful. Like these drives often do, this jaunt down the field began with impressive athleticism and an unlikely but still successful play.

Mahomes needs to go into escape mode quickly, as the foundation of the protection cracks and Adrian Clayborn (94) twists inside to add unblocked pressure. The play never dies, though, even as Mahomes scrambles to his left. He does play with fire, waiting until the last possible moment to sidestep Kyle Van Noy (53), who is still able to lasso Mahomes’ leg. Despite all that, he kicks out, barely sets his feet at all (certainly without any level of orthodoxy) and delivers a throw to Watkins, who was completely abandoned thanks to the zone defense. It’s impressive that Mahomes can not only get away from Van Noy’s grasp, but keep his eyes up the field, identify a target and get it to him while being clung to.

Immediately following that circus act was the first display of the Mahomes hand cannon from Sunday.

This is arguably the sexiest kind of Mahomes throw. Sets his base, rears back and just launches it deep. Naturally, it’s right on the money. The benefit of having someone like Tyreek Hill on your team is that over enough time it’s almost a sure thing he will find his way open. Mahomes has enough protection up front to give him and Hill time to let things develop. From that point it’s all arm strength. These throws are gorgeous.

We learned last season that Mahomes has late-game magic in his blood. Then we experienced again a couple of times this season. While he didn’t get a chance to make any plays in overtime, he did lead a scoring drive to tie the game at the end of regulation. That possession started with a sniper shot of a completion to Spencer Ware, our laser of the week.

There’s almost no margin for error on this throw. With little time to work with, an incompletion could have been overcome but the Chiefs desperately needed yardage. Mahomes has to escape the pocket when Trey Flowers (98) blows by Mitchell Schwartz on the outside and nearly gets home. He steps up then slips out to the right, looking for an open target the entire time. Ware runs a flat route from the backfield, then breaks up field and leaves Van Noy in his dust. Mahomes seems him, leads him and lets go of a dart. Props to Ware for a great catch as well, that’s not an easy play for either for them.

Demarcus Robinson got into the mix on the same drive, setting up field goal position on a free play.

Robinson, lined up in the slot to the right, runs a deep crossing route and out of his break gets inside leverage on Duron Harmon (21). Mahomes has to act fairly quickly due to pressure (notably from Clayborn to the left), but is able to test New England down the field because it’s a free play (watch the far defensive end jump early). He puts a perfect amount of touch on this pass, dropping in softly to Robinson’s hands. Not an easy spot in which to make this throw, and the throw itself was difficult in its own right, yet Mahomes makes it and makes it easily.

Let’s get back to another completion to Watkins, who was a stud for most of Sunday’s contest. On this next well-designed play, Mahomes has his man wide open for a big gain.

Mahomes slides the pocket to the left and makes the play while moving. On the outside, there’s an organic pick set to spring Watkins free because his route crosses with that of Chris Conley. Watkins’ man runs into Conley, which allows Watkins to run free. Mahomes knows his man will be open and he doesn’t need to go through his progression beyond his first read. It’s a good call and good recognition by the quarterback.

Sticking with passes to Watkins, we saw our favorite buzzword here on the Report come to life once again; that’s right, we saw some beautiful arm slot variance on Sunday.

Watkins gets a free release on a basic slant route from the outside. What would normally be the easiest completion imaginable becomes far more complicated when Clayborn gets a free run at Mahomes. The Patriots’ defensive line bluffs here, showing pressure before dropping off. On the left side, however, two rushers come and Eric Fisher can only picks up one of them. A normal delivery will result in Mahomes both getting crushed as a big risk with the ball, as it could be knocked out of his hand, affected upon release, etc. What does he do to counteract this? He channels his inner Chad Bradford and submarines a throw around Clayborn. It’s wobbly but it’s on a line and Watkins grabs it. Fantastic heads-up thinking by No. 15.

The Chiefs took their first lead of the game on a Mahomes touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, which was more difficult than the box score reading “one-yard touchdown pass” would lend you to believe.

Dont’a Hightower (54) does a decent job of following Damien Williams out of the backfield, shrinking the throwing window in that direction. Van Noy is also able to apply pressure to Mahomes, forcing him to retreat while also rolling to his right. Despite this, he’s still able to connect with Williams on a well-aimed throw. His base is unconventional and he’s still able to get some heat behind this throw, and he places it where Hightower has no chance of adjusting to make a play while he’s in chase mode.

Finally, the third and final touchdown pass from Mahomes, another one to Williams.

When throwback plays work they’re beautiful. The action all slides to the right, allowing Williams to leak out to the left. Clayborn realizes what’s happening (watch the near side) when Mahomes turns to his left, but by that point he doesn’t have a chance to recover. Mahomes’ toss is easy and Williams does the rest. Play calls make a difference, exemplified here.

THE BAD

Mahomes got off to a slow start in the AFC Championship game, which was part of the entire offensive starting slowly. While there were several overthrows, underthrows and missed targets, one play in particular stands out as a brutal miss, and that was a missed opportunity at a touchdown in the second quarter.

The Chiefs couldn’t capitalize on this drive with any points, which proved costly. This is not the kind of throw Mahomes normally misses. He was facing an adverse situation, not being able to step into the throw and having bodies in his face. Still, you have to take advantage of wide open receivers against New England. Nobody is better at making you pay for your miscues than Bill Belichick and the Patriots, and that includes missing opportunities like this.

Later on we’ll see some plays in which Mahomes shares some blame, but it’s this one incompletion that stands out as his biggest, most important mistake. Otherwise he played a great game given the circumstances. He made big throws (as illustrated here in the Report), held tough and showed leadership. He did everything you could want from a quarterback in a postseason game. It’s undeniably unfortunate, though, that the Chiefs couldn’t score here.

NON-MAHOMES GOOD

The Chiefs picked Patriots quarterback Tom Brady off twice *officially in the AFC Championship Game, one of which came at a dire moment in the first quarter.

Brady didn’t see Reggie Ragland when he released the pass, and that allowed the linebacker to make an easy interception. It wasn’t a terrible thought by New England to go for the pass on the goal line, but Kansas City had the play well covered. This time around the Chiefs capitalized on a bad Patriots mistake.

The second interception came from one of the unlikely best defensive players of the game, Dan Sorensen.

Julian Edelman (11) spent a lot of the week leading up to the game talking trash and hamming up the myth of the Patriots being counted out by anyone. He nearly became a goat on a controversial punt return non-fumble two plays before this one, but then committed a major mistake on this interception. The pass from Brady hits him in the hands and he can’t pull it in, and Sorensen is there to clean up the mess. At the time, this felt like a major momentum shifter.

Sorensen also made a crucial tackle on a fourth and short.

It was far from a great game for the veteran safety, but he deserves credit for making these two impact plays. He makes a great read, biding his time as the defensive line engages this offenses, then breaks on Rex Burkhead as he receives the handoff and angles right. He goes low at Burkhead’s legs and snags him as he’s up in the air, stopping his forward momentum and killing the play. There weren’t many guys who made plays on Sunday, so he needs some respect for stepping up at least a couple times.

As for the offense, Damien Williams deserves praise for a monstrous second half. His total yardage numbers weren’t great, specifically on the ground (10 rushes, 30 yards). However, he became the first Chief in franchise history to score three touchdowns in a playoff game, scoring the two we saw on receptions with another one coming via the run. He’s been a huge asset to the Kansas City offense and he paid dividends on the big stage.

NON-MAHOMES BAD

Early in the season, we frequently discussed how bad this Chiefs defense was and argued that at some point it was going to haunt them and cost them a major game (specifically in the playoffs). That nightmare came true in the AFC Championship Game. No specific element was worse, however, than the Chiefs’ third-down defense.

The Patriots converted 13 of 19 third-down attempts. That’s a 68.4 percent success rate on third downs in the biggest game in the last nearly 50 years for Kansas City. That’s nauseating. To make matters worse, it’s not as if the Patriots were facing third and two or less every time. In the second half and overtime, New England faced 10 third downs and averaged seven yards to go on those attempts. It also faced three straight third and 10s in the overtime period, converting each one of them. Excuses won’t cut it after a performance like that, and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton needs to face the music for it.

Sticking with the defense, one play (or waved off play, technically) will resonate with Chiefs fans for a long, long time.

Dee Ford was flagged for lining up in the neutral zone on this play, which is obvious from the freeze frame here. He’s not even close, his stance takes him well over the line. Brady was intercepted on this play with under a minute to go, which would have effectively ended the game. Instead, the Patriots kept the ball and scored shortly thereafter. You can say what you want about Trent Brown (77) being lined up well off the line for New England, but that doesn’t excuse an edge player not watching where he’s lined up in relation to the ball. It’s hard to make a reasonable excuse when the mistake is this egregious.

As for the offense, the line picked a bad time to play one of its worst games of the year. Mahomes was sacked four times, several of which were for huge losses. At least one of them, in the spirit of fairness and as was alluded to earlier, is partially on Mahomes.

This happened on the possession on which Mahomes missed Williams in the end zone. After taking this sack, Kansas City was pushed out of field goal range and it gave away possession. Mahomes needs to have better awareness in this case and make a quicker decision, because you don’t want to come away from a possession empty handed when you’ve got the ball inside the 25-yard line. The offensive line is far from innocent here, though. A mediocre New England pass rush was able to create a lot of pressure against a normally good offensive line.

Earlier in the game, we had another example of the line failing on a third down.

The Chiefs are really, really bad at handling stunts. This particular one is a delayed rush from Van Noy, who twists to the left and comes unblocked at Mahomes. It’s a slow-developing play and the coverage gets some credit for limiting the quarterback’s options, but you need better protection on third down.

If there’s one saving grace for the Chiefs after this tough loss, it’s that you have a superstar at quarterback. He had a historic season and he’s only going to keep getting better. The defense needs a ton of work, the offense is great but not yet perfect and you can still be one of the four best teams at worst in the NFL thanks to this quarterback. Patrick Mahomes is special, he covers for a lot of holes and does things nobody else can do. Losing to New England is a sad way for the season to end, but it was an incredible ride following No. 15 through his first season as a starter.

Thank you for joining us all season and reading along with the Mahomes Report.


Connect With Us Listen To Us On