KANSAS CITY, MO. – Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was shotgun position late in the first half of Sunday’s playoff game and his gritty voice sidelined Cleveland Browns’ defensive end, Myles Garrett, with a hard count. Free play gave Mahomes a free hand to throw a 16-yard pass at Tyreek Hill, with seconds remaining in half, and set up a field goal that put the Chiefs 19-3 ahead.
It wasn’t an anomaly, just the latest example of Mahomes using his cadence to lure an opponent over the line and then make a game for the Chiefs. Since starting Kansas City in 2018, Mahomes has led the NFL by 18 degrees after sidelining an opponent.
No other NFL quarterback has had more than seven such degrees during this period.
Mahomes’ status for Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Buffalo Bills (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS) was unclear for most of the week, but on Friday the quarterback said he had cleared the concussion protocol and would play. Mahomes was put on record after a goal later in the game against the Browns, but he took the most of the Chiefs snapshots in practice this week. Coach Andy Reid said Mahomes had moved well in practice and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said: “He was great at meetings.” With Mahomes saying he’s ready, the bills have to be on the alert if the QB gets a free chance.
“He has a good feeling for it,” Reid said of Mahomes in free spins. “… We have full confidence in him to make the decision if he goes forward to take the shot. He’s usually pretty specific about what he does with it and where he goes with it. So he doesn’t just say : “I’ll take the deepest man and just toss him at him.” Usually he works his way through trying to find the open man, so you either get the five yard penalty or the big win and / or touchdown. “
By the age of 25, Mahomes appears to have mastered the art of free play. He has 401 yards and two touchdowns on those 18 passes for a healthy average of 22.3 yards.
The next best quarterback in terms of free play degrees is Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys, who has completed seven throws in the past three seasons. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers has long been considered the master of the free game and has five in that time. But as of 2008, Rodgers has 33 deals with 14 touchdowns when he has nothing to lose.
“He’s doing a great job,” Mahomes said of Rodgers. “He can change games, he can use the hard count, he can do whatever comes before the snap. Obviously he’s super talented and can make a lot of games possible. He’s especially good at using things like that at 12 [defenders] on the field or the hard counts to get free games. “
It is not an overnight skill. Mahomes began working on this part of his game at Whitehouse High School, Texas, and continued college at Texas Tech. He only completed two college free spins passes, despite one getting a 31-yard touchdown in a bowl game against LSU.
“It’s not just me,” said Mahomes. “The whole offense has to be on the same page, taking the routes at the right depths, doing the right things and staying on the page using those hard counts.
“I try to use the cadence as much as possible. I mean fast cadence, hard counts, whatever it is just to get an advantage in some way, and the offensive line does a great job of sitting there and really paying attention. and we’re working on it all week. “
– Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 7, 2020
Mahomes’ final touchdown pass for a free game came in week 13 against the Broncos. Knowing a penalty interception would be undone, Mahomes threw his back foot between two defenders, but the pass ended with Travis Kelce for 20 yards and the touchdown towards the end of the third quarter.
“There are usually one, maybe two home run shots when you get someone offside on a deep pass,” Kelce said. “At the same time, when we don’t have a deep pass, there is still a bit of leeway to try and make a game.”
Mahomes changes how he goes through his readings once he’s sidelined an opponent. He immediately looks for the recipient who drives the deepest route. He threw a 46-yard touchdown pass against the Houston Texans to Hill that way last season.
When this type of game isn’t available, Mahomes works his way down the field. His coaches like to see it, but they also sound cautious.
“We always remind Pat, ‘Now let’s make sure we complete it,'” Bieniemy said. “We don’t want to give [the opposing defense] a gift in case it’s not on the opponent. “
Quarterbacks manager Mike Kafka added, “There’s a time and a place to get the ball into play and [a time and a place for] Take what they give you and get it done easily [or] fast five meters. “
However, the Chiefs see too much potential benefit in asking Mahomes to change his behavior. His ability to sideline defenders and then make a big game is something to consider for all opponents.
“This is a great quarterback,” said Miami manager Brian Flores last month before the Dolphins took on the Chiefs. “You can put him up there with the other guys you’ve seen doing something similar – the Aaron Rodgers, the Mannings, the Bradys. He’s an elite quarterback. I think it goes without saying.
“If you make a mistake, he’ll make you pay for it.”