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Revisiting Patrick Mahomes’ first start for the KC Chiefs

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Revisiting Patrick Mahomes’ first start for the KC Chiefs

What do you do when there is no football to watch? Find some football to watch anyway.

In the middle of the offseason and in the absence of any live NFL action, I was on the hunt for a way to get my football fix. The solution: watching old Kansas City Chiefs games. Rather than just watching a random Chiefs game or revisiting contests from last season, I wanted to go back a bit further and find meaningful games, or perhaps ones that might have been forgotten or, in hindsight, turned out to be a sliding door moment. I wanted to watch games not only to remember how things played out, but also to pick up on other things that might not have been noticed the first time, or might have since been forgotten.

The first game that came to mind was when Patrick Mahomes made his first career start against the Denver Broncos. The Chiefs would win 27-24 in a game that didn’t matter in the context of the 2018 season but had huge implications down the road. Rewatching it, these are some of the things that stood out to me.
The significance of the occasion

I had forgotten just how significant a moment Mahomes first start was, not just from a sense of the impact it would have on the future, but also in terms of their history at the QB position. When Mahomes took the field in week 17 against the Broncos, he was the first QB drafted by KC to start for the Chiefs in 38 years. 38 years! Mahomes was the highest drafted K.C. quarterback since they took Todd Blackledge in 1983, and he was just the third QB taken in the first round by the Chiefs.

The three-point win secured the first victory by a Chiefs-drafted quarterback since 1998. While I knew KC had traded for most of its quarterbacks in recent years, I had forgotten that it had been nearly four decades since they had turned to someone they drafted at the position. That history, paired with Mahomes making his first start after the Chiefs gave up considerable assets to trade up and take him just added to the pressure and importance of the occasion.

Normally a week 17 game with nothing to play for doesn’t really mean much in the grand context of things, but in this case, it had a huge impact on the future of the franchise.
Mahomes looked good

Before re-watching the game, I was curious to remember just how good Mahomes did or did not look in his first start. Of course, we know now that he is an elite quarterback and unbelievably talented, but how obvious were those signs in his first game?

Overall, he played well – he went 22-35 for 284 yards, with one interception – while coming up against the number two overall defense in the NFL. But watching the game again, you could definitely see the signs that he was something special. Chiefs fans got their first look at Mahomes during the preseason and we got glimpses of his abilities then, and he showcased his skill set again in the regular season. He had a number of great passes, and his arm strength and ability to make difficult throws look effortless were on full display.

Mahomes handled the blitz well and he coped under pressure, and he showed that he could make a number of big throws when it mattered including this spectacular throw late in the fourth quarter.

Another thing that I had forgotten: Mahomes was actually taken out of the game during the fourth quarter with the Chiefs up 24-10. After the Broncos scored two quick touchdowns to tie the game, Mahomes then came back in at QB with 2:45 to go, leading the Chiefs down the field to score the game-winning field goal as time expired.

Looking back on the game now, knowing what we now know about Mahomes and his abilities, you can definitely see he was going to be something special.
Just how good Alex Smith was before K.C. traded him

Something else that had faded from my mind was just how good Alex Smith was when he was in with the Chiefs. And not just that, but how very good he was in the season before the Chiefs traded him.

Smith was on fire in 2018, putting together the best year of his NFL career. He led the NFL in QBR that season while throwing for 4,042 yards, 26 touchdowns with 341 completions at 8.6 yards per attempt – all career highs. His completion percentage of 67.5% that year was the second-highest in his career and he threw just five interceptions. Those numbers are spectacular, and it just goes to show how brave the Chiefs were and how much confidence they had in Mahomes to trade Smith away.

The Chiefs made the postseason in four of the five seasons that they had Smith as their QB—he was a known quantity that fit the system well, and they were risking an awful lot by trading him away. Of course, that risk paid off and who knows what might have happened had the Chiefs decided to stick with Smith for at least one more year. I remember the heated debate around if the Chiefs should or shouldn’t trade Smith, but looking back at those numbers, it reminded me of just how tough of a decision it really was.
How good Kareem Hunt was

Kareem Hunt had just one carry against the Denver Broncos in Week 17, but that one carry was enough to show just how good he was in a Chiefs uniform. Hunt was handed the ball in the first quarter, cutting through Denver’s defense and running it 35 yards into the end zone for a touchdown. Not only did that run open the scoring, but the 35 yards brought his season total up to 1,327 – the most rushing yards in the league that season. The ease with which he split the Broncos’ defense offered a reminder of just how talented he was in KC, as did the fact that he was able to lead the league in rushing yards in just his rookie season.

The Kansas City Chiefs made the right decision when they cut Kareem Hunt. So far, they have continued to make the right decision by not bringing him back. But that one play on a cold day in Denver offered a reminder of just how good he was and made me reminisce about what might have been.
Other Chiefs that stood out

While the game will be remembered as the day the Mahomes era began, there were a number of other Chiefs on the field that day who had impressive performances that have been overshadowed.

With K.C. thin at running back for the game, Anthony Sherman played a huge role for the Chiefs. The fullback had 40 yards on 14 carries that day against the Broncos – more yards and the same number of carriers than he had in the rest of his career combined. He had one rushing touchdown in Denver, the only rushing TD of his career.

Harrison Butker was another Chief who notched a significant milestone. In his rookie season, a field goal against Denver set a franchise record for the most field goals in a season with 38. Making that feat even more impressive was that Butker missed K.C.’s first three games of the season after only being signed by the Carolina Panthers on September 26.

Albert Wilson was Kansas City’s leading receiver on the day, in what would turn out to be his final game for the Chiefs. Wilson had 10 catches that day – the most in his career – and went for 147 yards, the second most he would have in a game across his eight-year career.

Chris Jones was doing Stone Cold things, coming up with a strip sack that was returned for a touchdown. Also on defense, Tanoh Kpassagnon had two sacks that day and seven tackles overall – a good way to end his rookie season. Unfortunately, that game is still just one of two times he has recorded multiple sacks in a game.

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