KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The career of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes through eight games has been like no other — at least when it comes to touchdown passes.
Mahomes threw four scoring passes in Sunday night’s 45-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium. That gives him 22 touchdown passes in the first eight games of his career, breaking the NFL record of 21 set by Kurt Warner.
“You think you’re going to have success, but I didn’t expect this much,” Mahomes said. “But at the same time, I knew the weapons we had, and I knew if I just ran [the offense] and did what Coach [Andy] Reid wanted me to do that there was a chance we could be really, really good.”
Mahomes is closing in on the Chiefs’ single-season record for touchdowns. Len Dawson threw 30 touchdown passes in 1964, and Mahomes has nine games to catch him.
“We have a lot of season left. … We’re going to try to get a couple more and keep doing what we’re doing,” Reid said.
Mahomes threw four touchdown passes this season in games against the Chargers and Patriots. He had six scoring throws in a game against the Steelers.
Mahomes, the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick in 2017, said he has never had as much fun playing football as he’s having this season.
“To be able to learn every day from Coach Reid, to be able to get out here with all these guys … we literally have fun every single day,” he said. “We love coming to work, I guess you would say, and just getting to play this game that we’ve loved since we were little kids and winning a lot of football games.”
Mahomes threw three touchdown passes in the first half as the Chiefs built a 24-7 lead. He had scoring throws of 6 and 15 yards to Kareem Hunt and 17 yards to Demetrius Harris.
Mahomes’ 22nd touchdown pass of the season came in the fourth quarter. Tyreek Hill caught the 3-yard throw.
Mahomes failed to throw a touchdown pass in two of his eight career games: last season against the Broncos and this season against the Jaguars.
They saw the game for what it was in the moment — a three-point defeat on the road against the two-time defending AFC champions.
“I feel like if we had the ball last like they did, we would have gone down and scored and won, too,” running back Kareem Hunt said. “We can take this loss. I mean, you never want to lose. We’re going to learn from this, go study and make sure it [doesn’t] happen again.”
For now, at least, that’s the proper attitude for the 5-1 Chiefs to take after their first loss of the season. But they should be aware of the dangers that can follow.
Just last season, the Chiefs started 5-0 before an innocent-looking loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs then lost five more in their next six games to fall to 6-6 before righting their season and claiming the AFC West title by winning their final four games.
The Chiefs also started 9-0 in 2013 but finished 2-5. They were 7-3 at one point in 2014 before a three-game losing streak took them out of realistic playoff contention.
So the Chiefs are familiar with prolonged slumps. That’s why next Sunday night’s game against the 4-2 Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium might be the most important of the season for the Chiefs.
“This team has got great character,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve been around my whole 11-year career. We’ll be fine. I’m not worried about it at all [given] the way this team works, the way this team prepares. If we handle our business the way we’re supposed to handle our business, there is a good chance we’ll see [the Patriots] again.”
The Chiefs could have left themselves some margin for error by finding a way to win the close game against the Patriots. At 6-0, they would have had a commanding lead in the AFC West and for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Their nearest competitors in the division, the Los Angeles Chargers, are 4-2, and every other AFC team has at least two losses.
At 5-1, the Chiefs’ lead over their division and conference rivals is more precarious. But they can re-establish a larger sense of control by beating the Bengals. They would be 6-1 heading into one of the easiest three-game stretches of their schedule: home games against the Broncos and Cardinals and a road game with the Browns.
The Chiefs would do well to take advantage. This easier stretch of schedule ends in Week 11 in Mexico City, where they face the Rams, who — by beating the Broncos on Sunday while the Chiefs lost to the Patriots — are the NFL’s last remaining unbeaten team.
He didn’t get rattled. He instead turned the game into a classic duel in his first showdown with New England’s Tom Brady.
“When you have the guys I have on this team with the weapons that I have,” Mahomes said, “I have to keep slinging it.”
That’s what Mahomes did. He threw four second-half touchdown passes, three to Tyreek Hill, in leading the Chiefs back from their 15-point halftime deficit.
Brady beat Mahomes in the end. The Patriots kicked a walk-off field goal to win 43-40.
Finally, Mahomes came across an opponent he couldn’t outscore. Brady and the Patriots got it done, though Mahomes made them work for it.
“He made a lot of big (throws),” Brady said. “Tough to slow those guys down. They’re going to be pretty tough to stop. So glad we had our last shot and glad we took advantage of it.
Mahomes and the Chiefs are 5-1 this season.They are 6-1 when Mahomes is their starting quarterback, counting the final regular season game against the Denver Broncos last year. In that game, Mahomes led the Chiefs to a walkoff field goal and a 27-24 victory.
The game didn’t start off well for Mahomes. He put the Chiefs in bad spots in the first half for the first time with his two interceptions. One put the Patriots on the Kansas City 4 and they took advantage of the favorable field position for a touchdown.
The other, in the red zone near the end of the second quarter, cost the Chiefs at least three points.
I missed some throws,” Mahomes said. “That happens in this league. But whenever you’re playing good football teams you can’t miss those throws. We left some points out there.”
But he kept firing and was rewarded with the four touchdown passes, including one of 67 yards to Kareem Hunt and another of 75 yards to Hill.
“We just starting hitting on throws that I was missing earlier,” Hunt said. “I feel like we moved the ball well the entire night. We just have to find ways to score in the red zone. The last two weeks it just seems like we can’t punch it in there and I feel like in the second half we finally started getting it in the end zone.”
Brady and Mahomes wished each other well at midfield after Stephen Gostkowski‘s 28-yard field goal decided the game. The game might have only been the opening chapter of their rivalry.
“He gave me congrats on playing a good game and of course I did the same to him,” Mahomes said. “I just kind of told him good luck for the rest of this season. We’re going to go out there and hopefully we can keep playing and hopefully we might be able to see him again.”
The right-handed Mahomes was drifting to his left. He threw the ball late to the middle of the field. The pass was made across his body.
But Mahomes still made it work. Tight end Travis Kelce was open and the Chiefs got a 29-yard gain on the play and, eventually, a field goal on the drive.
This was a case, and there have been others this season with Mahomes, when the Chiefs have benefited from letting their quarterback use his uncommonly strong arm.
“They never encourage that,” Mahomes said of coach Andy Reid and the other offensive assistants. “As long as you complete it and you get the first down, they’re fine with it. At the same time, you have to know when not to do that.
“You never want to throw across your body as a quarterback, especially in this league … but it kind of [happened] naturally.”
Mahomes has yet to get himself or the 5-0 Chiefs into trouble with any of his daring passes. The Chiefs have tamed Mahomes, who arrived with a reputation for making some reckless passes, without taking away the qualities that attracted coach Andy Reid to him in the first place.
That’s a big reason why Mahomes, in his first season as a starter, has 14 touchdown passes with only two interceptions heading into Sunday night’s game against the Patriots in New England.
“Most guys are told not to do that,” said fullback Anthony Sherman, who was referring to the Kelce pass but could have been talking about other unconventional Mahomes passes. “He goes out there and executes it and it’s like, ‘OK, I guess you can do that.’ … Coach Reid gives him the ability that if he thinks he can get it there, throw it and get it there. He knows he’s going to have to get the ball into some tight windows, but he trusts his arm enough.
“I think at this point we should trust him and know he won’t put us in a bad situation. He’ll just find a way to get the ball to an open receiver.”
Mahomes didn’t throw a ton of interceptions in college at Texas Tech: 29 in 857 pass attempts, or on about 3.4 percent of his throws.
But he was prone to try to make a play down the field when one wasn’t necessarily available rather than always operate within the offensive system and be content with a shorter gain.
The Chiefs set about changing that part of Mahomes’ game from the time he arrived last year as a first-round draft pick. The first thing they did was have him observe last year’s starting quarterback Alex Smith, who protects the ball as well as any quarterback.
Smith has thrown an interception on 2.1 percent of his passes in his 13-year NFL career and on 1.4 percent of his throws in his five seasons with the Chiefs.
“What he learned from Alex was having respect for the football,” former Chiefs assistant coach Brad Childress said. “I’ve been around quarterbacks who have no regard for the football. If it became between you and the football, you can have the football. So Pat gets that part, how turnovers can kill you.”
The Chiefs hired assistant coach Mike Kafka to work with Mahomes last year. Kafka, who once played for Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles, was promoted to quarterbacks coach this year.
“Mike Kafka has lived with this kid now for two years,” Reid said. “Mike played in the offense, so he knows the rules and regulations you kind of have to go by but also the freedom you get to be yourself, to put your own mark on it. Then, the kid is wired that way. He wants to do well and be the best. So you can coach him and he will take his coaching and he’ll work with you on it. It’s a tribute to him. He’s a special kid that way.”
Reid routinely uses a trust test with his quarterbacks, asking them after certain plays during practice or games what he saw from the defensive coverage. Reid said Mahomes almost always breaks down the coverage exactly the way it unfolded.
“Not every quarterback can spit that out to you,” Reid said. “The thing about Pat is he’s blessed with this great vision. He sees everything out there.”
Because he’s so confident Mahomes is aware of everything the defense is doing from the start of a play to the finish, Reid is comfortable in not placing many restrictions on him in terms of the types of throws he can make. As Reid put it, “You let him put his personality on it.”
Childress said Mahomes last season in practice made several no-look passes, gazing out into the flat while throwing a slant toward the middle of the field.
“I coached [Brett] Favre for two years and he’s the only other guy I’ve seen that was confident enough to be able to do that, to look one way and throw the other,” Childress said. “He would do that in practice and Andy of course would keep a straight face. He didn’t encourage it at all, but you’ve got to let him be himself.
“He’s got supreme confidence in his ability. You don’t want somebody who doesn’t. You wouldn’t want somebody who doubts himself or questions himself.”
Mahomes had some interception-filled practice sessions early in training camp. Reid described a lot of the interceptions as the result of Mahomes testing the limits of what he can get away with on certain plays and against certain coverages.
Mahomes’ two interceptions this season, both last week against the Jaguars, weren’t reckless throws. One appeared to sail on him and went over Tyreek Hill‘s reach. On the other, Demarcus Robinson went up the field rather than coming back to the ball.
Regardless, Mahomes will keep chucking, and the Chiefs will keep reaping the benefits.
“It’s all situational,” Mahomes said. “Sometimes you can extend plays and give your receivers chances to make plays, and sometimes you need to stay in the pocket and just take what’s there.
“I’m not fast. I know my strength is not running the ball. I know I have a lot of playmakers whose strength is catching the ball and making people miss. I know if I keep my eyes downfield I can get it to them.”
“The rankings, the comparisons and all that, I’ll just leave that up to you guys [in the media], whatever you say,” Gronkowski said Wednesday. “I just try to do my best. I think he’s a great player, and I’ve just got to worry about what I can do to help out the team.”
New England’s Gronkowski remains limited in practice with an ankle injury, but he said that his body feels good and he will “be ready to play Sunday night,” which sets up the inevitable comparisons with Kansas City’s Kelce, as they are two of the best tight ends in the NFL.
“He’s quick, he’s shifty, which is very crucial to have,” Gronkowski said of Kelce. “He knows how to get separation and get away from the defender. I like watching him play when I get a chance.”
Gronkowski was amused to learn that both he and Kelce are 29 years old, even though Gronkowski has been playing in the NFL since 2010, while Kelce entered the league in 2013. Gronkowski said the two have met a few times, mostly at NFL events such as the Super Bowl, but they don’t have much of a connection beyond that.
This season, Kelce has the edge on the stat sheet, having caught 28 passes for 407 yards, with three touchdowns. Gronkowski has 23 receptions for 308 yards and one touchdown, as he has been kept out of the end zone in each of the past four games.
“I’ve got to pick it up. I’ve got to start scoring,” Gronkowski said, after noting that he’s happy as long as the Patriots are winning.
Because some view the 6-foot-6, 268-pound Gronkowski as more of a combination tight end (equally effective as a pass-catcher and a blocker) and the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Kelce as more of a bigger wide receiver who is less likely to be an in-line blocker, Gronkowski was asked if he even considers them playing the same position.
“You can look for yourself. I think he’s a great player and can definitely learn from guys like that. Just his shiftiness is nice,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gronkowski took a moment to acknowledge the Boston Red Sox advancing to the American League Championship Series, relaying that he has watched “a couple innings here and there” and has been impressed with how they came together as a team.
Sunday night’s Patriots-Chiefs game in Foxborough is scheduled to kick off at 8:20 p.m. ET, which is about an hour after the start of Game 2 of the ALCS, as the Red Sox host the Houston Astros at Fenway Park.
Gronkowski had some fun with the scheduling.
“That’s pretty nuts. But you know Boston sports fans, they’re going to have two TVs — the Red Sox game right there and the Patriots game right there,” he said. “Probably halftime of our game, the Red Sox game will be [finishing] up or something. New England fans, they’re die-hard fans — not just for football, but for every sport around here. So you know they’ll find a way to watch both.”
Coach Andy Reid said he expected Duvernay-Tardif to return later in the year.
“He won’t be done for the season,” Reid said.
Jordan Devey replaced Duvernay-Tardif at left guard against the Jaguars and is the likely starter in next Sunday night’s game against the Patriots in New England. Devey started two games for the Chiefs over the past two seasons. Previously, he started 13 games for the Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.
Duvernay-Tardif graduated in May from the medical school at Montreal’s McGill University, making him the first known doctor to play in the NFL.
In other moves, the Chiefs re-signed veteran linebacker Frank Zombo, who played for Kansas City the past five seasons before being released at the end of training camp this year. Zombo’s addition would be necessary if Justin Houston couldn’t play against the Patriots. Houston left the Jaguars game because of a sore hamstring.
The Chiefs also placed rookie safety Armani Watts on IR because of a groin injury.
This will be the first Sunday night game for the Bengals, who lead the AFC North at 4-1, since the 2015 season. They are 3-15, including playoffs, in that slot since 1990 — with their last win on Sunday night coming in 2004 against the Dolphins.
ESPN’s Katherine Terrell contributed to this report.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs have been the NFL’s last remaining unbeaten team twice since coach Andy Reid arrived in 2013, not that it did them much good either time.
They failed to so much as win a playoff game in 2013 — when they started 9-0 — or 2017 — when they started 5-0.
Here they are again, one of the two remaining unbeaten teams at 5-0 after they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Los Angeles Rams are also 5-0, and the teams will meet in Week 11 on Monday Night Football in Mexico City.
Oddly for a team with little recent playoff success — the Chiefs have lost 11 of their past 12 postseason games — 2018 doesn’t feel like early season fortune on the path to eventual slaughter.
It feels different, sturdier. The Chiefs seem built to last.
“I believe so,” tight end Travis Kelce said. “I think everyone can say it’s a different feeling, a lot more confidence, a lot more accountability amongst the guys to keep coming in and going through their routines of getting ready for each week.
“It has a lot to do with years past, guys feeling sick of the kind of up-and-down roller coaster, [wanting] to take what happened last year and fix it. Finishing the games … overall, the finishing mindset has been huge in terms of what coach Reid has emphasized on this football team. In the fourth quarter, we try to amp it up one more notch.”
Here are a few reasons the Chiefs will sustain their early success this season:
Their offense is less prone to deep slumps. The Chiefs went into a midseason offensive slump last year, when they scored 36 points in a three-game stretch, all defeats against teams that failed to win their divisions. That won’t happen this season. The Chiefs had their worst offensive game so far on Sunday against statistically the best defense in the league. For the first time this season, the Chiefs did not get a touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes, who threw his first two interceptions. It didn’t matter. They scored 23 points on offense, more than enough to win. The Chiefs have more for a defense to worry about than they did last season. The addition of Sammy Watkins to go with Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt gives the Chiefs four threats on the field on almost every down.
Their defense isn’t great, but it’s better than it looks statistically. The Chiefs beat the Jaguars with their defense. They made quarterback Blake Bortles commit five turnovers and sacked him five times. Jacksonville had 502 yards, but a significant chunk of them (212) came during garbage time in the fourth quarter, when the Chiefs had a comfortable lead. It’s time to judge the Kansas City defense on more than yardage allowed. The Chiefs are getting the job done when it matters. They entered Sunday’s game with the league’s best defense on third down. They excel defensively when the opponent has a lead, the game is tied or the Chiefs lead by seven points or fewer. In those situations, opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 68.9, which puts the Chiefs fifth in the league.
They’re close to lapping the field in the AFC. The Chiefs have the tiebreaker on some of the teams they might compete with for home-field advantage in the playoffs. They’ve already beaten the Jaguars, Steelers and Chargers. They can almost assure themselves of the tiebreaker against any potential playoff opponent by winning their next two games, which are against possible division winners. The Chiefs play Sunday night against the Patriots in New England and return to Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 21 to play the Cincinnati Bengals. If the Chiefs get to 7-0, it’s a good bet they’ll play their playoff games in Kansas City.
The Mahomes factor. The Chiefs believe they’ll never be out of a game as long as their young quarterback remains in the lineup. He delivered in the fourth quarter in his two career games in which his team absolutely had to have it. He led the Chiefs to a walk-off field goal against the Broncos in his only start last season. The Chiefs then scored two touchdowns in the last half of the fourth quarter last week in Denver to overcome a 10-point deficit. Late-game rallies were never Alex Smith‘s thing. The Chiefs usually lost when behind in the fourth quarter with Smith at quarterback.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tyreek Hill is fast. Like superfast. Potentially historically fast.
The Kansas City Chiefs receiver ran a 4.19-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, which would eclipse the fastest 40 in NFL combine history (Bengals receiver John Ross ran 4.22 in 2017). He also was timed at 4.25 seconds at a Nike SPARQ Camp.
That speed — as well as that of receiver Sammy Watkins and running back Kareem Hunt — is one of the first topics that comes up when discussing the Chiefs’ offense.
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive players say they’re ready for it on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. They also believe they can match it.
“They’re a fast group, but we’re a fast group,” linebacker Telvin Smith said. “Like we said, this is going to be the best against the best. Make your move. We’re going to make our move.
“Come out and be ready to play.”
The speed on the Jaguars’ defense is somewhat overlooked because of cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s trash talk, defensive end Calais Campbell’s dominance as a pass-rusher (17.5 sacks in his past 20 games) and their gaudy stats, but it’s one of the reasons the unit is so good.
That’s especially true at linebacker, where two of the three starters have run sub-4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Rookie Leon Jacobs had the second-fastest 40 time at the NFL combine (4.48, behind only Shaquem Griffin’s 4.38). Myles Jack did not run the 40 at the combine or his pro day in 2016 because he was recovering from a knee injury but has been timed as low as 4.46.
He already has scored two defensive touchdowns in his career: an 81-yard fumble return against the New York Jets in 2017 and a 32-yard interception return in the 2018 season opener against the New York Giants.
One of the best examples of Jack’s speed came in a minicamp practice in his rookie season. He came from the opposite side of the field to run down receiver Marqise Lee on a jet sweep for a 1-yard gain.
Smith ran the second-fastest time among linebackers at the 2014 combine (4.52). That was enough to make the Jaguars overlook that he is an undersized linebacker (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) by NFL standards and draft him in the fifth round.
Smith’s speed has been his biggest asset as a playmaker. He leads the NFL in solo tackles (364) since he entered the league and has four defensive touchdowns. He scored three touchdowns last season: a 28-yard interception return against Pittsburgh in October, a fumble recovery in the end zone against Cleveland and a 50-yard fumble return against Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Smith also had a 26-yard interception return for a TD against Buffalo in 2015.
Jack and Smith will have to deal with Hill on short passes, and they believe their speed will keep him from turning those into bigger gains. Hill averages 15.8 yards per catch and has nine offensive plays of 50 or more yards in his career (eight for touchdowns).
The secondary will deal with Hill and Watkins much more than the linebackers. The Jaguars allowed Jets receivers Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson to get behind the coverage twice last week, but rookie quarterback Sam Darnold was unable to connect on what would have been big plays. That can’t happen this week because Patrick Mahomes won’t miss.
The Jaguars are confident in their matchups, though.
“Fastest defense in the National Football League,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “Absolutely. It’s no question about it. We’re going against a fast offense. This is the fastest defense. I definitely think we don’t get enough credit [for speed], but I guess Sunday we’re going to see.”
Because to him, Tyreek Hill is more accomplished as a return specialist.
“I don’t like how whoever has made it a matchup me against Tyreek,” Ramsey said Thursday afternoon. “He’s good for what he does for their team. He made All-Pro as a return specialist — let’s get that right, as a return specialist — his rookie year. He went to two Pro Bowls as a return specialist — return specialist — two years. I made All-Pro in my position as a corner. Went to the Pro Bowl as a corner. So it’s not a wide receiver versus corner matchup, so we can get that out of the way off the bat.”
Ramsey said that in response to Hill’s comments on Wednesday, when Hill said he was looking forward to the matchup with Ramsey at Arrowhead Stadium. He said Ramsey is “all right I guess” and hopes that Ramsey plays press coverage against him.
Hill also called Ramsey a great player and the top dog among corners in the NFL and said he can’t wait to play against Ramsey.
“I just wish he would have picked a side, you know?” Ramsey said. “Either I’m just all right or I’m the top dog. Pick a side. If I’m the top dog but I’m just all right, that means he doesn’t think that any corner in the league is good. And that’s not true.”
Hill was named All-Pro as a returner as a rookie in 2016 and made the Pro Bowl as a returner the past two seasons. He has four punt returns and one kickoff return touchdowns in his career and leads the NFL in punt return average in 2018 (27.4 yards). He also led the NFL in punt return average as a rookie. But Hill also has 159 catches for 2,140 yards and 16 touchdowns — including seven of 50 or more yards.
Hill is tied with tight end Travis Kelce for the team lead in receptions (23) but leads in yardage (364) and is averaging 15.8 yards per catch.
“He made All-Pro as a return specialist — let’s get that right, as a return specialist — his rookie year. He went to two Pro Bowls as a return specialist — return specialist — two years. I made All-Pro in my position as a corner. Went to the Pro Bowl as a corner. So it’s not a wide receiver versus corner matchup, so we can get that out of the way off the bat.”
Jalen Ramsey, on Tyreek Hill
Ramsey, who was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro last season, has 13 tackles and one pass breakup this season. He also dropped an interception in the end zone against the New York Jets last week.
Ramsey said he will be matched up against Hill at times on Sunday, but so will several other defenders, which is also why he thinks people are wrong for assuming it’s going to be a one-on-one battle all afternoon.
“You know, I feel like it was a strategic, smart move by him. He’s going to get some clout,” Ramsey said. “He’s going to get the buzz going around there for a little bit. But he knows, just like I feel like everybody knows, me and Tyreek, we’re going to probably have some opportunities to match up against each other, but it won’t be like that for the majority of the game. I think everybody knows that.
“He moves around everywhere. He plays running back, receiver, slot. Like, he’s not out there on that island 90 percent of the time, where I’m at. I don’t look at it as me versus him. I don’t think this is really a matchup game, to be honest with you.”
But when they do match up, Hill’s going to get his wish: Ramsey in his face on the line of scrimmage. He may rethink that at some point, Ramsey said.
“If you look at my film, what do I do every week? I play press, right?” Ramsey said. “Every week, no matter who I’m playing, so if he wants smoke, it’ll get there.”