Every adjective has been exhausted when it comes to Patrick Mahomes. An NFL cheat code come to life, it’s not a stretch to say the Chiefs would struggle to be a .500 team without the greatest passer in modern football. Every player has a breaking point, no matter how incredible they might be — and we saw that in the Thursday night season opener against the Lions.
Mahomes failed to reach 250 passing yards for just the 19th time in his career. His 77.5 passer rating was the 10th lowest of his career. None of this was because of the quarterback. Instead Mahomes was consistently let down by putrid receiving, led most infamously by Kadarius Toney who dropped four passes and was wholly responsible for Mahomes’ only interception, when he turned the most routine of catches into a pick-six for the Lions.
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Without Travis Kelce and without Chris Jones to offer a pop on defense the Chiefs achieved the remarkable: They made Patrick Mahomes look mortal. Yes, you read that right — taking nothing away from the Lions, but the debacle on Thursday night was entirely of the Chiefs’ making.
The big question mark surrounding the Chiefs entering 2022 was their lack of weapons. Trading Tyreek Hill was a necessary evil for the team’s future cap solvency, but came at the expense of losing one of football’s most electric receivers to pair with their jaw-dropping quarterback. One of the reasons that Hill and Mahomes worked so brilliantly together was because they were two of the league’s best improvisers, and when you paired Pat’s ability to throw off platform with Hill’s evasiveness after the catch it was a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Kansas City took its lumps early in the season. They barely squeaked past the Chargers in Week 2, before dropping a game to the Colts in Week 3. Of course, we know how that played out. The offense leaned more on Travis Kelce than ever before, while the rest of the Chiefs’ weapons were hardly world-beaters, but good enough to get the job done and win a Super Bowl.
On Thursday night, with Kelce out and the Chiefs’ unable to get consistent pressure on the quarterback because of Chris Jones’ holdout, it all crumbled. For most teams a collapse looks like a double-digit loss, but this team was so good that it only manifested itself as a one-point defeat that still could have gone the other way.
It still raised the question: Have the Chiefs pushed Mahomes too far? This is a team that let JuJu Smith-Schuster leave in free agency along with Mecole Hardman, only to take a “next man up” philosophy by signing Marquez Valdes-Scantling, drafting Skyy Moore, and questionably promoting Toney to full-time starter.
If 2022 was a step back offensively, 2023 is reversing into a chasm. Andy Reid isn’t worried, for what it’s worth, and even after the offensive horror show of Thursday night the Chiefs coach was convinced his players’ performance was the exception, and not the rule.
“No excuses at all,” Reid said. “We’ve got guys that can play, we were right there to take care of business. They got us on special teams and continued the drive, they got us on the tipped ball… listen, it’s unusual for the guys that dropped the ball to drop the ball. That’s not what I’ve seen from them; I wouldn’t expect them to do that. So if you do that, you take care of business there and you’ll be alright.
While Reid’s point is certainly salient about Toney drops and the lack of production not being indicative of their talent, there’s also a fair amount of blame that belongs back to the front office for putting Mahomes in this situation. If you consistently downgrade your attack because you’re convinced the QB is good enough to make everyone better then eventually you’re going to bottom out. Hell, look at Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. There is a significant risk the Chiefs have risked the same thing here.
This isn’t bulletin board material. It’s not designed to be studied as a larger part of treatise of “doubt” on the Chiefs. Hell, the reality is that Kelce will return and the team will surge back offensively — because at the end of the day the Chiefs still managed to only lose by one point to one of the most hyped teams in the NFC despite being without two-thirds of their superstar players.
It’s fair to have some concerns though. One game isn’t much of a sample size, but Thursday night was ugly. Coming up is a brutal four game stretch against the Jaguars, Bears, Jets and Vikings — with Chicago being the only “gimme” of the group. If we see these offensive struggled continue with Kelce back in the lineup this team needs to pull the trigger and trade for a receiver ASAP, because what we saw on Thursday night simply wasn’t good enough.
This content was originally published here.