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.
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 Patriots are 23-0 at home in the regular season against quarterbacks younger than 25 years old, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. It started with a win over Tim Couch and the Cleveland Browns in 2001, while the most recent game to fall into this category was the 2018 opener against Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans.
Next up: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who became the first player to throw for 10 touchdowns in a team’s first two games. He turned 23 on Sept. 17.
As one would expect from a Belichick-coached team, the Patriots aren’t relying on history to win them a game Sunday night.
“He’s looking like he’s been playing in the league for a few years,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “You’re either a good pocket passer or a scramble quarterback, and obviously he does both well. One thing he does really well, that you don’t see a lot of young quarterbacks do, he tries to protect himself. A lot of runs, it’s him getting out of bounds or getting down a little sooner than expected. He’s a really good quarterback.”
At the same time, Mahomes has only six career starts, so Hightower acknowledged that part of the Patriots’ success Sunday night will be “maybe giving him some things he hasn’t seen before.”
That has helped against other under-25 quarterbacks who have come to Gillette Stadium over the past 19 years, a group including the Rams’ Jared Goff (2016), the Raiders’ Derek Carr (2014), the Colts’ Andrew Luck (2012) and the Falcons’ Matt Ryan (2009), among others.
On Sunday night, the quarterback matchup of Brady vs. Mahomes has an age gap of 18 years and 45 days between them. According to Elias, that is the largest age difference between opposing quarterbacks since 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck faced 21-year-old Jameis Winston in 2015 (the gap was 18 years, 103 days).
In practice, the Patriots had 24-year-old practice squad quarterback Danny Etling heave the ball as far as he could down the field — with safeties playing deep — to simulate Mahomes’ uncommon arm strength.
In studying the Chiefs, veteran safety Devin McCourty said Mahomes’ poise has stood out to him, as well as his control over the offense.
“He never really rushes to try to make a play or do the wrong thing,” he said.
While Mahomes hopes to become the first under-25 quarterback to win at Gillette Stadium against Belichick/Brady in the regular season, Joe Flacco (2009 wild-card round) and Mark Sanchez (2010 divisional round) did it in the playoffs.
And the youngest quarterback to win in the regular season at Gillette Stadium since 2001 was Colin Kaepernick (25 years, 43 days). He led the 49ers to a 41-34 win in 2012.
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.”
With the AFC West and their playoff seed clinched, the Kansas City Chiefs had the luxury of sitting starting quarterback Alex Smith and playing Mahomes in Week 17. With the score tied at 24 and 2:45 remaining on the clock, Mahomes got his first chance to shine.
Mahomes, completing four passes for 52 yards and converting twice on third down, led the Chiefs to a walk-off field goal and a 27-24 win.
The Chiefs were leaning toward trading Smith and installing Mahomes by this season even before they got to Denver that day. But the way Mahomes took care of business, both during the game and the practice week leading up to it, confirmed it.
“I like the way he went about business,” Reid said. “We were able to take him and lead him into that game throughout the whole week. … What that did was it allowed you to get a feel for him for down the road, whenever that time was, and I liked what I saw and felt there. I think he handled things very well. Prepared to the ‘T’ on that, handled himself very well.
“I came out of that going ‘You know what? This kid is ready to go. He’s ready to go ahead and lead.'”
The Chiefs pulled a rare double that week, working on two games at once. Smith studied playoff game plans with then-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and assistant coach Brad Childress, while Mahomes prepared for the Broncos with coach Andy Reid and assistant Mike Kafka.
That’s right, Reid spent his time with Mahomes on a game that was meaningless to the Chiefs in the standings, but not to their future. It was important for Reid to get his first-round pick off to a good start in the first start of his career.
The Chiefs couldn’t have hoped for a better situation, a chance for their prized rookie to prove himself in crunch time. And in that moment, Mahomes’ demeanor gave them confidence things would turn out all right.
“He just had this calmness about him and that seems to be natural for him,” tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “He didn’t get intimidated by the moment, and that’s something you want to see on the road in Denver.
“In practice, when he’s on the scout team, he can run around and chuck it and not really have to worry about things. The game is really when you get to know how someone can handle pressure situations. It was good to see. It was a fun game, and it turned out well.”
Now in Week 4 of 2018, Mahomes and the Chiefs return to Denver for the first time since that start, this time on Monday Night Football. He’s no longer a rookie trying out his talents for the first time. Mahomes has been the sensation of the early season, throwing for 13 touchdowns without an interception, and the Chiefs are one of the NFL’s three remaining unbeaten teams.
But nothing was certain last season heading into Denver. Reid and Kafka tailored the game plan to Mahomes’ strengths. They operated from the shotgun, as Mahomes had done almost exclusively in college, on about half of their plays.
“I was able to … talk to him and see what he liked and felt most comfortable with,” Reid said. “For that game, we molded that game plan around him. Mike Kafka spent a lot of time with him when everybody else was kind of working on the playoff game. We were able to get in there and kind of mold it with what we had in the package at that time, mold it around him.”
They made little effort to provide him with extra protection, using more than five blockers on seven of his 35 pass attempts.
Mahomes didn’t get off to a great start. He threw incompletions on three of his first four passes, but the Chiefs took the lead anyway on their first drive on Kareem Hunt‘s 35-yard touchdown run. Mahomes threw his only interception on the next possession, firing too high for De’Anthony Thomas. Mahomes later acknowledged the overthrow was a result of being too excited.
He settled down after that and finished 22-of-35 for 284 yards.
“He helped call [plays] to my strengths, and we had success and came out of there with the win,” Mahomes said.
He showed his talent for making difficult passes a couple of times. First he thew off his back foot because of pressure and connected with Albert Wilson between two defenders for 19 years. Later, while retreating because of pressure, he hit Demarcus Robinson for 12 yards between three Broncos.
“I was really impressed with the way he moved out of the pocket,” center Mitch Morse said. “I didn’t know he had those legs on him. He was able to throw the ball in those contorted, weird ways, [and that] was amazing. He’s a playmaker. That was apparent. It was pretty special to watch him go out there and put drives together.”
If those throws were Mahomes’ signature plays of the game, the ending was the most important sequence. Mahomes, after being removed from the game in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs ahead 24-10, re-entered for the final drive.
“His ability after something didn’t go right — he threw an interception early — he bounced right back and led us to a field goal,” said Kafka, who replaced Nagy as quarterbacks coach this year. “Then he also came back in the two-minute drill and then won the game. Throughout the entire game, he kept his poise. He was very demonstrative about what he wanted to do. He made a ton of checks at the line. He operated and performed and played to win the game.
“It goes to his competitive nature. Honestly, when he came back in we all knew we were going to go back down and win, either score a touchdown or kick the game-winning field goal.”
Mahomes won over Reid and the assistants that day. Maybe more important was that he won over the locker room. He was about to replace a popular veteran in Smith.
A positive first impression went a long way.
“That kind of solidified his status and his ability to lead a team in the future,” Schwartz said. “Things were smooth the whole week in practice and you appreciate that. That tells you he was doing stuff Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the game.
“It just felt natural. It didn’t feel weird without Alex in there. It just felt like there was a really good quarterback with you in the huddle, and things were going to turn out well.”
METAIRIE, La. — The New Orleans Saints‘ struggling pass defense took another hit on Tuesday with news that veteran nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson will be placed on injured reserve with a broken left ankle.
A source confirmed the news, which was first reported by the NFL Network. Robinson is expected to be out for the season.
Robinson, who was one of the Saints’ top free-agent signings this offseason, was carted off the field during Sunday’s 43-37 overtime victory versus the Atlanta Falcons.
He is scheduled to undergo surgery on Wednesday.
The Saints are 2-1, but their pass defense has struggled mightily this season. They have allowed an opponents’ passer rating of 141.7, 20 points higher than any other defense in the NFL.
They also are yielding 336.7 passing yards per game, which ranks 30th in the NFL. And they have allowed 10 touchdown passes, which is tied for the most in the league.
It’s unclear how much Robinson played a role in those struggles — since he was brought back to New Orleans to play in the slot. Most of the Saints’ troubles have come on deep passes against their outside cornerbacks.
Regardless, losing a reliable veteran from the mix will hurt a New Orleans team that has already been laboring at the position. Last week, the Saints replaced starting cornerback Ken Crawley with veteran backup P.J. Williams on the outside — only to switch back after Williams allowed two first-half touchdown passes to Falcons rookie wideout Calvin Ridley.
Robinson, 31, who began his career as a first-round draft pick with the Saints from 2010 to 2014, has developed into one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL, which is specifically why the Saints brought him back on a four-year, $20 million contract.
The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder had arguably the best season of his career last year for the Philadelphia Eagles, helping them win a Super Bowl.
The Saints will be tested immediately without him on Sunday in New York against a Giants offense that features both a dynamic playmaker in Odell Beckham Jr. and a threatening No. 2 receiver in Sterling Shepard, who does some of his best work in the slot.
It’s unclear who will replace Robinson in the slot. The Saints held some auditions on Tuesday. They could consider Williams. Or they could consider relying heavily on three-safety packages, which they have done often in the past.
The Saints were deep with cornerback options this summer. But they released veteran Marcus Williams and rookie fifth-round draft pick Natrell Jamerson, among others who got picked up by other teams. Then they just released second-year cornerback Arthur Maulet heading into the weekend and lost him on waivers to the Indianapolis Colts.
Both players were knocked out of last Sunday’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and hadn’t practiced all week, so their absence was expected.
Meanwhile, the club also downgraded cornerback Eric Rowe to out with a groin injury. Rowe had started each of the past two weeks, but was benched after two series last weekend, with veteran Jason McCourty replacing him.
McCourty is a top candidate to start against the Lions, with rookies J.C. Jackson and Keion Crossen also possibly being active for their first regular-season games this season.
The Patriots previously ruled out pass-catching tight end Jacob Hollister (chest), so the club will need to downgrade only three more players for the game.
One intriguing storyline centers around newly acquired wide receiver Josh Gordon, who remains officially questionable because of his hamstring. That gives him 50-50 odds to play.
As for how the Patriots might replace Chung and Flowers, six-year veteran Duron Harmon is a projected starter at safety in place of Chung, while Deatrich Wise Jr. is a top candidate to take the majority of Flowers’ reps. It could also mean that 2017 third-round pick Derek Rivers, a defensive end out of Youngstown State, makes his regular-season debut after missing all of his rookie season with a torn ACL. Chung also was the team’s top punt returner last weekend, a role that is expected to fall to third-year defensive back Cyrus Jones.
Here’s a look at what they’ve done and what’s next:
Where’d this come from?
Mahomes: He played in just one game last season when he was a rookie, but he made the most of it. He started the final regular-season game in Denver. His stats weren’t eye-popping (22-of-35, 284 yards, no TDs, one interception), but the Chiefs played that day without Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Kansas City removed Mahomes from the game in the second half but put him back in the lineup for the final drive in what was then a tie game. He led the Chiefs to a walk-off field goal and the win.
Fitzpatrick: He won two of his three starts for the Bucs last season, but the numbers look dramatically different. With Jameis Winston out due to injury, Fitzpatrick was much more of a game manager last season, going for shorter, higher-percentage throws. Fitzpatrick, playing for his seventh team, averaged 11.49 yards per completion in 2017 compared to 17.06 yards per completion this season.
How they’re doing it
Mahomes: What has been so impressive is that the Chiefs had much different plans in each of their games. In the opener against the Chargers, Mahomes used a combination of deep throws and quick pop passes off jet-sweep action. Last week against the Steelers, the Chiefs frequently went empty in the backfield and Mahomes made quick decisions and quick throws.
Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick is averaging 19.17 yards per pass attempt on first down (83.3 percent completion), whereas last season the Bucs’ offense averaged just 8.23 yards per pass attempt on first down. Protection has been a huge factor. He has been pressured on just 17.4 percent of his dropbacks this year — second best in the league. Last season, Bucs quarterbacks were pressured on 28.4 percent of dropbacks — 18th in the league. Fitzpatrick is also manipulating defenses with his eyes and taking advantage of one-on-one, single-high-safety looks.
Pausing from the gaudy stats, Fitzpatrick wins the fashion battle through two games.
Mahomes demurred in his sartorial choices.
How these starts compare
Mahomes: In a sense he is in uncharted waters here. A fast start like his is usually the domain of a veteran quarterback, not a player in his first season as a starter. It’s interesting to note that when Peyton Manning set the single-season record for touchdown passes with 55 in 2013, he had at least one scoring throw in each of the 16 games. He had at least two in 15 games. It’s hard to see Mahomes, or any other quarterback, keeping that pace.
Fitzpatrick: He is the first quarterback since Joe Namath in 1972 to throw four touchdown passes of 50-plus yards through the first two games of the season. He is the third player since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to record consecutive games with 400 yards passing and four touchdowns, joining Dan Marino (1984) and Billy Volek (2004). He is the first player since the merger to do so in the first two games of the season.
Mahomes: It looks like Mahomes will need to continue to pile up a lot of TD passes and other big stats because Kansas City’s defense has not been good. The Chiefs have allowed more than 500 yards — and more than 400 passing yards — per game. Astoundingly, they’re still 2-0. Mahomes has some interesting matchups upcoming, including in Week 5 against the Jaguars and Week 6 against the Patriots. Let’s see what Bill Belichick will have waiting for Mahomes.
Fitzpatrick: Before Winston is eligible to return from a three-game suspension, Fitzpatrick is guaranteed to start one more week, against the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Monday Night Football. Neither head coach Dirk Koetter nor general manager Jason Licht have committed to who will start in Week 4, but a shortened week, combined with Winston being away from the team for nearly a month, could make that decision easier.
“I don’t think that you could expect more from anyone,” said wide receiver Chris Conley, who caught one of Mahomes’ team-record-tying six touchdown passes on Sunday. “Pat’s come here and handled himself extremely well. The level of confidence and poise that this kid has … I haven’t seen it anywhere. He’s continued to go in, learn and get better every day and then come out on the field and execute.
“You can’t ask him to do anything else. He’s handled the times where he’s made the plays really well. He’s handled the times where he hasn’t. That speaks volumes.”
Mahomes was close to flawless on Sunday, when he threw more touchdown passes than incompletions (five). He was 23-of-28 for 326 yards and a passer rating of 154.8, or less than four points from the highest possible number.
Mahomes, who threw four touchdown passes last week in Kansas City’s season-opening win over the Los Angeles Chargers, set an NFL mark for scoring throws in the first three games of a career. He started the final regular-season game as a rookie last season but didn’t throw for a touchdown. The old record was eight, shared by Marcus Mariota and Mark Rypien.
Patrick Mahomes talks up all the options the Chiefs have on offense.
He’s also only the second quarterback to throw at least four TD passes in each of the first two games of a season. Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots in 1997 is the other.
“You never expect to have 10 touchdowns at this point in the season,” Mahomes said. “But I knew what this offense with the weapons we had and the scheme coach [Andy] Reid is drawing up that we had a chance to be really, really good. The possibilities are endless.
“We’re not done. This is just a start. It’s just the beginning of the season.”
Mahomes moved the ball around well. Tight end Travis Kelce and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill each had at least five catches. Kelce and Watkins each had at least 100 receiving yards, while Hill finished with 90.
Five players had at least one touchdown catch, with Kelce leading the way with two.
“I see Pat doing this all season long,” Kelce said. “He’s got the confidence, and as long as we give him time and get open as wideouts, tight ends and running backs, he’s going to get the best of everyone.”