Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs are in separate class from rest of NFL
SportsPulse: While both Seattle and New England found ways to win Sunday both teams mentioned to our reporters how much they missed their home fans this week. We go around the league to track how home-field advantage played a factor in Week 3.
BALTIMORE — One, two, three, four.
As he jogged back to sideline after tossing a touchdown pass to offensive tackle Eric Fisher to put the Kansas City Chiefs up 34-20 — the deciding score of Monday’s victory over the fellow AFC power Baltimore Ravens — with 8:14 left, Patrick Mahomes stared at his right hand, counting his digits, and then shrugged, a half-smirk on his face.
With that, the quarterback set off a debate. Four? Four, what?
It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen the Chiefs’ star figuring with his fingers.
After a fourth-quarter touchdown pass last December in an eventual blowout win over the Chicago Bears, who in 2017 made the woeful decision to select Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick in that year’s NFL draft, Mahomes counted to 10 on his fingers to remind everyone he had fallen eight spots further in the draft before the Chiefs snatched him up.
Monday night, he was back at it.
Was it his touchdown pass tally for the night? Or was the reigning Super Bowl MVP referring to the ranking on this year’s “NFL Top 100” — a list determined by player votes that awarded the top spot to Lamar Jackson, whom Mahomes thoroughly outplayed in the Ravens’ own stadium?
At the time of the list’s release earlier this offseason, Mahomes tweeted a note-taking GIF to let everyone know he wouldn’t forget.
Was he issuing a reminder with his late-game celebration?
Mahomes played coy at his postgame news conference.
“I think I had four touchdowns at that point,” he said before flashing a knowing smile.
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Believe what you wish. But one thing is clear: with his 411-yard (385 passing, 26 rushing), five-touchdown (four passing, one rushing) performance against Baltimore on Monday night, Mahomes left no room for doubt about the rarity of his game-changing talents. And the Chiefs erased any doubts about whether they remain the crème de la crème of the NFL.
Monday’s display of dominance didn’t come against just any old team. Mahomes and the offense shredded one of the stoutest defenses in the league. And Kansas City’s defense had contained one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL as well as Jackson, a typically electrifying player who took home regular-season MVP honors last season after torching foes with his legs and arm.
The contest had the buildup of a heavyweight bout. Mahomes vs. Jackson. Chiefs vs. Ravens. The defending Super Bowl champs against the squad that boasted the best regular-season record in 2019. An early-season meeting of unbeatens.
But the matchup never lived up to the hype. Instead, it revealed the difference between elite and very good.
From the time Mahomes and his unit went to work, answering the Ravens’ long game-opening drive with a six-play, 75-yard series capped by a 3-yard Mahomes touchdown run, the visitors appeared to be on a mission. And the Ravens appeared overmatched.
The Chiefs boasted the more talented quarterback. They boasted the more creative and diverse offensive game plan. They even owned the better defense for the night.
“Our Kryptonite,” said Jackson of Mahomes and the Chiefs, against whom he is now 0-3 as a starter in the regular season. Against the rest of the league, he’s 21-1.
On Monday, Jackson managed only 97 passing yards, a touchdown and 83 rushing yards while fumbling twice.
The greatest disparity between Monday’s opponents revealed itself in the team’s offensive versatility.
Mahomes and Jackson certainly are two of the league’s most talented young quarterbacks. Each is equally important to his team’s success.
But the Chiefs are constructed in a way that enables them to attack in any way they desire. Need an aggressive, quick-strike aerial attack? They’ve got it. Mahomes can slice and dice an opponent, delivering the ball from whatever arm angle necessary. He can fool defenders with his pump fakes or spin moves. He can leap into the air and deliver a laser-beam pass. He can hang tough in the pocket and chuck a bomb downfield to any one of his many track-star wide receivers.
Or, if they so wish, the Chiefs can slow things down by handing the ball off to rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who gives them the all-purpose back that they lost when they cut Kareem Hunt two years ago.
If the Chiefs were a boxer, they’d be Sugar Ray Leonard, who could fight in any style necessary.
Don’t let Monday night fool you. The Ravens are indeed an impressive team. But as a boxer, they’re a great first-punch fighter. If they can get that first shot off and dictate, they’re a nightmare matchup.
But if they fall behind, they struggle. Their offense centers largely on Jackson’s dual-threat capabilities and a heavy rushing attack. But it’s hard to play that way when you’re in a hole.
The numbers don’t lie. Since he took over as their starter in 2018, Jackson and the Ravens are 0-6 when trailing at halftime. According to NFL Research, they’re the only team in the NFL without a single win after trailing at halftime since 2018.
Jackson has worked hard to improve as a passer, and his front office has acquired more talent at wide receiver and tight end. But the Ravens remain a run-first team, and until they’re able to add another dimension to their offense, they’ll continue to come up short against an opponent like the Chiefs.
Jackson has shown flashes of being a capable pocket passer. But the room for growth remains, both on his part and the parts of his play-callers.
And as the offense struggles, pressure mounts on their defense and limits that unit.
Chiefs players praised Baltimore’s defense, saying the Ravens threw many different looks at them that they had never seen on film. But again, here’s where the wizardry of Mahomes and offensive architects Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy comes in handy. All three equipped to respond accordingly. And given a healthy lead, Kansas City’s defense has the luxury of playing with aggression as well.
Given all this, the Chiefs remain the best of the best. If you were expecting a drop-off after their Super Bowl victory, think again.
Pass-rusher Frank Clark and others discussed the 23-20 overtime victory they eked out against the Chargers in Week 2 with such disdain that you would have thought the Chiefs had lost.
“We let ourselves down (against the Chargers) and we wanted to come out and get that nasty taste out of our mouths,” Clark said.
And Monday’s victory certainly helped accomplish that.
Meanwhile, the Ravens no doubt are left with a nasty taste in their own mouths as they search for ways to shrink the gap that the Chiefs appear to have widened.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.