On Thursday night, the Kansas City Chiefs bolstered their Super Bowl dreams. The reason? Patrick Mahomes, on both the field and sideline.
Patrick Mahomes didn’t only help the Kansas City Chiefs score 34 points on Thursday night.
Mahomes helped them save nine.
In Kansas City’s epic 34-28 overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium, the Chiefs improved to 10-4 and effectively ended the AFC West race. Los Angeles, 8-6, is likely to be a wild card team, but is also left to wonder how a possible division title got away.
For many, the blame in that regard falls on Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, who five times refused either likely or sure points to go for a conversion on fourth down.
And yet, for all that’s made of the Chargers and their manic aggressiveness under Staley both on Thursday night and the three months prior, the facts tell a more contextualized story.
This season, Los Angeles has attempted 26 fourth-down conversions, third-most in the NFL behind the consistently-trailing Detroit Lions and Washington Football Team.
Of those 26 plays, only three came in the red zone before Thursday night’s game. In seven cases, the Chargers were attempting to extend drives in their own end of the field, or on nine occasions, they were looking at a field goal attempt of at least 45 yards.
In short, Staley has either been trying to jumpstart drives or eschewed a long field goal with shaky kickers with the other option being Justin Herbert. It’s a no-brainer in most situations.
However, on Thursday, the Chargers went on fourth down twice inside the Kansas City 5-yard line, something they’d done only three times combined in the previous 12 games. The result, famously, was disaster, even if the process was understandable.
In the postgame press conference, Staley was asked about his fourth-down decisions. The most illuminating quote:
“From my mindset, I know that the quickest way to win a game like that is to score touchdowns not field goals, especially considering who is on the other side.”
If Kansas City has a solid quarterback — think Derek Carr or Kirk Cousins, for instance — it’s fair to wonder if Staley kicks at least once or twice. Instead, the looming shadow of Mahomes is ever-present, having the potential to make field goals the equivalent to punts through the uprights.
Logically, kicking two field goals of 20 and 23 yards is a loser’s gamble against Mahomes.
And this is where the hidden value becomes unearthed in the great quarterbacks. Ultimately, Mahomes threw for 410 yards and three touchdowns and accounted for a staggering 229 total yards in Kansas City’s final four minutes and 20 seconds of possession time.
It was an uneven first 50 minutes by Mahomes’ standards, followed by a hurricane of yardage and points. Where have we seen that before?
Staley understood the force he was facing. Mahomes can struggle for a moment, even a half. But at some point, the volcano explodes. It’s coming, and if you aren’t far enough out in front of a pending disaster, you’re likely to become a victim of it.
On Thursday, the Chiefs’ defense made a trio of key fourth-down stops, and was given the opportunity because its quarterback is the scariest player in football to face down. The result was a maximum nine points saved, and with it, perhaps a season.
All told, Mahomes accounted for 442 yards and three scores, all on 75-yard touchdown drives to twice tie and eventually beat the Chargers in the fourth quarter and overtime. It was a showcase.
And yet his greatest contribution in some ways came while on the sideline.
Mahomes won the game late. He saved it all night long.
Top 10 MVP candidates through 15 weeks
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (3,487 yards, 30 TDs, 4 INTs)
2. Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4,134 yards, 36 TDs, 11 INTs)
3. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs (4,052 yards, 30 TDs, 13 INTs)
4. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts (1,348 yards, 5.6 YPC, 16 TDs)
5. Matthew Stafford, QB, Los Angeles Rams (3,898 yards, 33 TDs, 9 INTs)
6. Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers (4,058 yards, 32 TDs, 12 INTs)
7. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills (3,734 yards, 31 TDs, 12 INTs)
8. Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys (3,558 yards, 25 TDs, 10 INTs)
9. Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (113 rec., 1,489 yards, 12 TDs)
10. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals (3,039 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs)
“I think everything is so fragile right now. And that includes coaching staffs. When I got into coaching, coaches weren’t making this kind of money and they didn’t have agents. Everything is so fragile where it used to be team, team, team. I remember talking about it in a staff meeting three days ago. I got into this profession because I had the greatest high school coach and it was all about team. All about the huddle.”
– Former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer on what went wrong in his tenure
In these 77 words, Meyer explained why he failed. Because nothing is his fault, and everything went wrong around him.
Lou Holtz (New York Jets), Bobby Petrino (Atlanta Falcons) and Meyer are widely regarded as the three worst coaching hires to jump from college success to the NFL.
Incredibly, all lasted exactly 13 games.
Info learned this week
1. AFC East became much tighter with 24 hours of chaos
Remember when the New England Patriots had a stranglehold on the AFC East? That was fun.
While the Patriots are still the favorite to take the crown, they’re now facing a virtual must-win after the Buffalo Bills handled the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon. New England and Buffalo square off this weekend at Gillette Stadium, and the winner is practically assured of a division title.
If the Patriots win, they’d only need one more win or a loss by the Miami Dolphins over the final three weeks. If the Bills win, they’d only be tasked with beating the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets at home.
While winning the division and hosting a few playoff games is important for anybody, it feels almost necessary for the Patriots. Asking Mac Jones to travel into the AFC’s toughest venues and win repeatedly is a reach. Doing the same of Josh Allen, while tough, is doable.
For New England, Sunday’s tilt is quite likely the difference between an early exit and a deep run.
2. AFC North is absurdly wide open after Sunday’s results
Well, the NFL is about to have a four-way fight like nobody has seen in years.
The AFC North is a circus, with the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens at 8-6, after the former’s win over the Denver Broncos, and the latter’s defeat to the Green Bay Packers. However, should the Cleveland Browns beat the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night, they also improve to 8-6 and hold the three-way tiebreaker for first place. In last, the Pittsburgh Steelers, are 7-6-1 and still have a pair of division games remaining.
According to 538, a Browns win would give them a 34 percent chance of winning the AFC North. Cincinnati and Baltimore would each have 29 percent, with Pittsburgh at eight percent. However, a Cleveland loss and has the Browns and Steelers at 10 percent apiece, with the Bengals (40 percent) a slight favorite over the Ravens (39 percent).
Next week should break up the cluster some, with Baltimore and Cincinnati meeting at Paul Brown Stadium, while Cleveland and Pittsburgh visit the Packers and Chiefs, respectively.
Absolute, unabashed madness.
3. Titans beat themselves, and the loss looms large in many ways
The Tennessee Titans outgained the Steelers by almost double. They allowed one touchdown. They held Pittsburgh to 35 rushing yards and 12 first downs. And they lost.
Why? Four turnovers, three of which came in a 10-play span of the second half.
Following an excruciatingly painful 19-13 loss, the Titans are still in firm control of the AFC South but now fall to third in the AFC playoff picture. At 9-5, they’re a game back of the Chiefs, who they pummeled 27-3 back in Week 7.
With the defeat, the Titans have a tough climb to the conference’s lone bye. That could be massive in a variety of ways, including whether Tennessee can be healthy come Wild Card weekend. The Titans are hoping running back Derrick Henry has returned by then. Receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones should be, but both have dealt with injuries all year. A week off would be enormous.
The Titans handed the Steelers a key game. And with it, perhaps lost a crucial opportunity.
4. Colts, Chargers appear primed for wild cards in AFC
The Indianapolis Colts won this weekend. The Chargers lost. Yet both are 8-6 and each has a clear path to the playoffs.
Indianapolis has a tough Christmas matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, but afterward, play the Raiders and Jaguars. Conversely, the Chargers play the Houston Texans, Broncos and Raiders over the final three weeks. It’s tough to believe both don’t reach 10 wins with a real shot at 11. Even with 10, each is likely in the postseason.
Below them, a mad scramble. Both the Dolphins and Broncos are 7-7 and out of their division races. It’s win out or the offseason for those two, and they still need help elsewhere. The main area of the AFC playoff picture to watch is the AFC North, as one team will win the crown while three others battle with Indy, Los Angeles, Denver and Miami.
Still, with three weeks remaining, the Colts and Chargers — despite wildly different vibes going into late December, should feel solid in their positions.
5. 49ers essentially punch ticket, Saints score huge win
We’re finally getting some clarity in the NFC. For starters, the San Francisco 49ers aren’t going quietly.
After their 31-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons, the 49ers are 8-6 and appear a lock for a top-six seed. Additionally, San Francisco is healthier than it has been in almost two years, with a full complement of offensive weapons and a defensive front seven loaded with playmakers.
Although there are real flaws such as Jimmy Garoppolo’s consistency and the secondary’s ability to cover against elite offenses, San Francisco has top-end playmakers in tight end George Kittle and receiver Deebo Samuel, along with a head coach in Kyle Shanahan who can always manufacture a running game.
Meanwhile, the bottom of the NFC playoff picture is clearing up.
With their 9-0 upset win over the Buccaneers on Sunday, the New Orleans Saints are in a good spot. The winner from Tuesday’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Football Team will be 7-7 and tied with New Orleans, but everyone else is in the trail position.
The Saints’ upcoming schedule? Miami, Carolina and Atlanta. Yes, 10-7 looks very feasible.
Take the Buccaneers to crush the Panthers. Tampa Bay is an 11-point favorite on the road in Carolina, but even such a large spread away from home shouldn’t dissuade. The Buccaneers are rolling towards the playoffs, and the Panthers are 2-9 in their past 11 games.
The NFL made the right decision in rescheduling three games this week.
Yes, the league initially stated this summer its intent to not move games due to COVID-19 outbreaks within clubs. Yet with the Omnicron variant taking hold of the NFL and country, commissioner Roger Goodell made the correct call for the sake of both player safety and competitive balance.
With the NFL Players being well over 90 percent vaccinated, the outbreaks for the Browns, Washington and Los Angeles Rams can’t be blamed on the teams. It can be attributed to poor luck. And to have those squads, all with real playoff hopes, essentially given a near-automatic loss, would be absurd.
Unfortunately, their respective opponents in the Raiders, Eagles and Seattle Seahawks are the losers here. They’re healthy, but must wait and then play Week 17 on short rest. It’s not fair, but nothing about the pandemic is. Frankly, short rest is among the least of anybody’s problems.
It’s understandable there are aggrieved parties here, but the NFL was faced with a no-win situation, and it made the best decision possible.
Inside the league
The key to the 2022 NFL Draft can be found inside the NFC East.
Five first-round picks belong to the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, at three and two respectively. There’s a good chance four of them will be in the top-15, giving both teams a litany of ammunition to make a move. However, are there any quarterbacks worth a big move up?
If so, there should be trade partners. The Detroit Lions could use another haul of picks while living with Jared Goff for another year. The same is true of the Houston Texans and either Tyrod Taylor or Davis Mills. Both teams are so far away, they need picks more than projects under center.
Still, speaking with NFL personnel evaluators, there’s a near-universal belief any quarterback taken in the top 10 picks is an enormous risk. However, recent history says someone will gamble considering the outsized importance of the position.
With Daniel Jones and Jalen Hurts ranging between floundering and average, do the Giants or Eagles cash in their proverbial chips for a shot at the next franchise quarterback. Whatever those franchises decide will shape April’s draft.
One of the NFL’s all-time great performances came in 1977, with a flu-ridden Walter Payton single-handedly beating the Minnesota Vikings.
Payton, an eventual first-ballot Hall of Famer in the midst of his finest season, saw the defending NFC champions invade Soldier Field in Week 9. With almost no offensive weaponry around him that year — no other Bears made the Pro Bowl from the unit — Payton was given the ball 40 times, gaining a then-NFL record 275 rushing yards. Chicago, despite only seven pass attempts, win 10-7.
At season’s end, Payton won the ’77 MVP award with 1,852 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, leading Chicago to the playoffs for the first time since their championship year of 1963.
All year, the national indifference toward the Cardinals suggested a lack of faith in their ability to truly contend. We’ve seen why twice over the past six days.
Despite the Rams being very shorthanded, they went into Glendale and handled the Cardinals with relative ease. Then, on Sunday, the previously one-win Lions destroyed Arizona, winning 30-12 because of the inability to win consistently in the trenches, along with a bad interception and eight penalties.
The Cardinals need to win a certain way. Kyler Murray must be Superman and the defense has to get turnovers. If those things don’t happen, Arizona’s offense struggles. In the playoffs, against elite quarterbacks, quality coaching staffs and defensive fronts that can get pressure with four,
Arizona has to execute perfectly on the margins. It might be a bit much to ask of a team that has ample talent but no experience and a penchant for failing to make the routine plays repeatedly.