LAS VEGAS — Maybe the tone for the big relief of a breakout game for Patrick Mahomes was set early last week when Shane Buechele, a practice squad quarterback, showed him a video.
You can find it on YouTube. It shows a high school kid giving an animated response with a classic punch line for a collection of hilarious interviews that has undoubtedly gone viral.
Mahomes thought it was a hoot. And he could relate.
“Shane showed me this video of this kid, ‘I’ve got my swagger back,’“ Mahomes said after torching the Raiders for 406 yards and five touchdowns on Sunday night. “That was kind of my mantra this week. The whole team got that swagger back. We’re going to try to keep this rolling.”
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In demolishing Las Vegas 41-14, the Chiefs (6-4) won their third consecutive game and claimed first place in the AFC West for the first time since Week 1.
Yet it was deeper than that. It was Mahomes, finally shaking off the longest slump of his career, that made the victory so significant. The Chiefs scratched by the Packers and their young emergency quarterback, Jordan Love, the previous Sunday and before that barely beat the hapless Giants. Kansas City eked out gritty wins that didn’t exactly scream Super Bowl contender.
Then came Sunday night. Sure, the season is just entering the second half. But seeing the ringleader resemble his old (young) self again, it is apparent that it was way too early to write off the Chiefs as a threat to win their third consecutive AFC title and make it back to the Super Bowl.
Maybe that’s not how this season will end for Kansas City. Perhaps the Bills or the Titans – two teams that have clobbered the Chiefs in recent weeks – are destined this time around. Or maybe not.
When Mahomes is clicking the way he was at Allegiant Stadium, the “real” Chiefs usually are coming with him. Of course, pummeling the fading Raiders suggests the need for a certain amount of context, but in the NFL – the week-to-week league where upsets can even come in the form of tie games (hello, Pittsburgh) – you take the wins in any way you can get them.
Remember, Mahomes came to Las Vegas having thrown for just two TDs in the previous three games and with 10 interceptions on the season, one shy of the league high. He posted sub-100 pass efficiency ratings for five consecutive games, the longest such stretch of his career. He just didn’t look like himself, missing throws that were big-play touchdowns last season, forcing stuff that looked an awful lot like someone pressing too hard to make something happen.
Well, this time he looked like someone rolling 7’s at a casino over on The Strip. In the fourth quarter, he scrambled and launched a throw on the run to running back Darrel Williams – a throw that came so close to being illegal as he let it rip just before crossing the line of scrimmage – that turned into a 38-yard touchdown because the guy in the Chiefs uniform won the jump-ball.
“That’s crazy,” marveled Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, typically the target on such highlight-reel plays. “To be honest, I’m thinking, ‘Is he past the line?’ Then I saw him throwing and I’m like, ‘I know he’s not fixing to throw this to Darrel.’ “
He did. It worked. Like rolling 7’s.
Williams rushed for 43 yards and caught nine passes for 101 yards – both career highs – with the bulk of the connections coming on checkdowns and swing passes that demonstrated how a patient Mahomes was willing to take what the defense gave him.
But still, on a team with Hill and Travis Kelce, you never expect Williams to put up the most receptions in a game as he did in this case.
“He tells me he can catch,” Mahomes said. “I guess I see it.”
Or, as Williams himself put it: “These hands, they work.”
It’s also striking that on the play before the long TD pass, Mahomes, who finished with a 127.6 passer rating and zero picks, dangerously heaved one deep for Mecole Hardman that was nearly intercepted – or perhaps would have been picked three weeks ago.
The good fortune and rhythm that Mahomes had reflected a bigger picture. Coach Andy Reid rolled a 7, too, in calling for a fake punt that resulted in punter Tommy Townsend converting on a fourth-and-7 pass to Marcus Kemp.
Also, the defense turned in another impressive performance, complete with two turnovers.
Mahomes sensed a game like this one was coming, a complete performance – and the type of complementary football the “real” Chiefs are going to need as this season progresses.
“I knew we were going to click back in it,” he said. “I’ve been saying it for weeks. We have the guys, too many guys that work hard. We’re going to find a way to get it going. When the defense is playing like that … don’t let that get overlooked, the way they’re playing.”
The defense is communicating better and in recent weeks has gotten healthier. Those are good signs. And it helps that there are still key cogs who were on the 2019 unit that struggled before clamping down for the stretch run that ended with a Lombardi Trophy.
No, it’s not time to declare anything now. The Chiefs know better.
“We’re not crowning anybody in November,” said safety Tyrann Mathieu, who collected a fumble recovery. “We’ve got a lot more games left. We’ve got the Chargers coming up. The Cowboys. We’ve got some big games coming up. That’s really where our focus should be. Obviously, with the way we started the season, to be in this position is very humbling. So, we’ve just got to keep working.”
It has to be encouraging, though, to see the potential again – especially when Mahomes is on point – with a complete performance.
Now if only the Chiefs can make sure that what happened in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs break out, proving Super Bowl is attainable
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