The New England Patriots played against some of the NFL’s best offenses this year — from the Indianapolis Colts to the Chicago Bears to the Los Angeles Chargers last week. The biggest challenge they faced during the regular season, however, is the one that will also cross their paths this week: a Kansas City Chiefs team that led the league in scoring during the regular season by averaging 35.3 points per game.
While not all of the team’s 71 touchdowns were scored by the offense — five of them came either on special teams or via the defense — the unit is still the best in the business when it comes to putting pressure on opponents this season. Arguably the biggest reason for that is the play of second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who will likely be named the league’s Most Valuable Player on the eve of Super Bowl 53.
“He’s an outstanding player in every facet of the game,” Bill Belichick said earlier this week about Mahomes. “He’s got a strong arm. He can throw the ball the length of the field. He’s got a great touch. He’s got the ability to read coverages and extend plays, make good decisions and make explosive plays without taking too much of a risk and putting his team in jeopardy. He does all of those things well and that’s a credit to him.”
Mahomes is certainly having an outstanding season, as a look at the numbers shows. During the Chiefs’ 16 regular season games, he completed 383 of his 580 pass attempts (66.0%) for 5,097 yards, a league-high 50 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. His impact however, goes beyond the stat sheet: time and again, the 23-year old was able to keep plays and drives alive pretty much on his own, thus constantly putting his team in favorable situations.
The Patriots were first-hand witnesses of Mahomes’ excellence during the two teams’ week six meeting. While New England ultimately prevailed 43-40, the former first-round draft pick was able to keep his team in the game up until Stephen Gostkowski’s game-winning field goal right as time expired — and that despite the Patriots defense putting constant physical and mental pressure on him, especially in the first half.
When asked about what impressed him about Mahomes’ play that day, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower was pretty straight forward. “I think the same thing that kind of impressed everybody,” the Patriots’ defensive signal caller said. “I think the fact that he kind of came in and the whole game, he kind of kept his composure, he made a lot of key throws when he needed to, he extended plays, which really hurt us.”
“Just the way that he kind of managed the offense, whether it was him making checks from what he’s seeing or maybe it was a check thing within the game plan — just the way he carried himself the whole game,” continued Hightower. Showing the necessary composure paired with his natural athletic abilities, Mahomes was able to finish the day with 23 completions on 36 attempts for 352 yards, four touchdowns as well as two picks.
In order to limit his impact this time around, the Patriots know they need to be able to keep the pressure on the quarterback from start to finish. “I think [we have] to keep him in the pocket but to also keep pressure on him, not letting him feel comfortable,” said Hightower. “But, obviously, he’s an athletic quarterback. He can throw just as well outside the pocket as he can inside the pocket.”
“I mean, on film, you see him not even looking where he’s throwing and he’s able to hit it, too. I mean, he’s a very accurate quarterback, so we want to keep him inside the pocket but keep pressure on him,” the veteran defender continued. Hightower’s teammate Trey Flowers echoed the remarks about the Chiefs’ impressive quarterback, especially when it came to topic of Mahomes being able to keep plays alive.
“He’s definitely a guy that’s able to extend plays and not as much as looking to run but he’s looking to throw the ball down the field to a lot of fast skill guys. Just him being able to buy some time, elude some pressure... and he has some guys that can run very well and get open,” said Flowers. “He doesn’t overthrow many of those guys, so just the accuracy and the arm strength that he’s able to do on the run and do as he eludes pressure — he’s definitely a great quarterback.”