The 49 Steps
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The 49 Steps

Patrick Mahomes’ ego has cost the Kansas City Chiefs a dynasty

Patrick Mahomes has almost everything needed to be the best quarterback in the NFL. He is blessed with outrageous arm talent and preternatural athleticism. He’s also daring enough to believe he can win any game from any position.

There’s one thing missing, though. It’s humility. Mahomes lacks the humble streak to do what the game is demanding of him. To subjugate his own ego for the good of the team. That ego has cost the Kansas City Chiefs a Super Bowl dynasty.

If that sounds a little harsh, consider the Chiefs’ recent run. Mahomes has had four cracks at the ultimate prize since 2018. He first came unstuck at home against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

The Chiefs and Mahomes went one better in the 2019 season, ending the campaign with victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. There was no repeat the next season when Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers flattened KC 31–9 in Super Bowl LV.

Mahomes’ latest unravelling came Sunday at home against the un-fancied Cincinnati Bengals in another AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs blew a 21–3 lead to lose 27–24 in overtime. This one will sting the most because it was a collapse almost entirely of Mahomes’ own making.

Mahomes became unstuck because he couldn’t take his ego out of the equation. The warning signs were obvious a mere five seconds before halftime.

A Chiefs drive had stalled at the Bengals’ two-yard line. The Chiefs still held a 21–10 lead, so a chip-shot field goal would have given them a two-touchdown advantage ahead of receiving the kickoff to begin the second half.

There was just one problem. Mahomes wanted more. Worst still, Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid indulged the reckless whims of his franchise quarterback, and not for the first time in recent years.

What followed was an object lesson in how not to play smart football. Mahomes dallied in the pocket before finally checking the ball down to Tyreek Hill, who was tackled short of the goal-line.

It was a huge swing in momentum, but one entirely avoidable. Mahomes had two options: Either throw the ball into the end zone (if there was an open receiver), or throw it away and preserve enough time for the field goal.

Instead, he followed his own lead in a way that showed a big middle finger to the doctrine of situational football and any kind of team-first ethic. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since Mahomes has developed a nasty habit of playing a brand of football better suited to the highlight reel than winning championships.

Improv skills have Mahomes believing the hype

Naturally, Mahomes was asked after the game about the farce before halftime. His response was telling, per ESPN’s Adam Teicher:

Just read that once more. Mahomes admitted to being greedy, but also said he’d do the same thing again. He’d put his own greed before what’s best in a particular situation. So much for being a team player.

There’s an obvious egotism behind Mahomes’ words. On one level, he can be forgiven for developing a healthy ego.

It’d be impossible not to when you can manufacture plays like the one he made to find Travis Kelce for the Chiefs’ second TD vs. the Bengals:

The problem when you can improvise this well is you start to believe you can do it any time in any given situation. That’s a dangerous thing for a pro quarterback whose job is as much about managing the game for his team as dominating the outcome.

A smart, measured quarterback doesn’t make the mistakes Mahomes made down by three points on the final drive of regulation. Twice, he scrambled and dove out of bounds inside the red zone in a two-minute drill, despite Cincy owning three timeouts.

Those mistakes allowed the Bengals to preserve at least one of those timeouts. That’s exactly the opposite of what the Chiefs wanted. Giving the ball back to Joe Burrow and a dangerous offense with timeouts and enough time on the clock to still drive for either a tying or winning score.

Mahomes wasn’t interested in playing the clock. That’s for other quarterbacks. For mere mortals. He wasn’t interested in handing the ball off and letting the Chiefs try and run in the winning score from the Bengals’ four-yard line. Ceding to your running game is what other quarterbacks do. Quarterbacks who can’t conjure the things Mahomes can make happen.

Instead, Mahomes opted to pass inside the five-yard line. He scrambled back and forth in the pocket until he was sacked by Sam Hubbard. The sequence was repeated on the next play. Mahomes even fumbled, only to be bailed out by a recovery from one of his offensive linemen.

Had the Bengals recovered, the game would have ended in regulation. Mahomes would have given away the chance for the Chiefs to even tie the game. He didn’t want the field goal because field goals are for the other quarterbacks. The mere mortals.

Taking sacks at the goal-line in a two-minute drill with the game on the line is unforgivable. It’s bad football. Harrison Butker let Mahomes off the hook, even though his game-tying field goal had become a 44-yarder instead of a chip shot.

Mahomes didn’t even yield to the good fortune fate continued to hand him when the Chiefs won the toss in overtime. Instead, he forced a deep throw into double coverage on third down, and Vonn Bell intercepted.

Look at the Next Gen Stats visual breakdown of the turnover. Mahomes forced the ball to Hill (10), despite the wideout being bracketed by Bell (24) and fellow safety Jessie Bates:

In the process, Mahomes also ignored tight end Blake Bell (81) underneath. He refused to take what the Bengals gave him, even if it meant punting and giving his defense a better chance to hold off Burrow. Mahomes went for it all and handed the Bengals optimum field position for a winning kick.

It’s a problem Reid and his staff have been dealing with all season.

Mahomes’ egotism is a trend, not a one-off problem

If you think Mahomes just had a bad day at the office, you’re ignoring the deeper problem. The Chiefs have been fighting a battle with their star quarterback all season. A fight to get him to take his ego out of the equation and do what’s best for the team.

Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has rarely hid his frustration. He accused Mahomes of playing “hero ball” after a defeat to the Buffalo Bills back in October, according to Pete Sweeney of SB Nation’s Arrowhead Pride.

Mahomes was struggling to adapt to defenses taking away the vertical strikes he loves by countering with 2-deep coverage shells. The answer was to throw underneath and take a longer route to the end zone.

For a brief moment, that’s what Mahomes did, and the Chiefs won eight straight after a 3–4 start. There were still tensions, though, notably when Mahomes and Bieniemy got into it during Week 18’s win over the Denver Broncos.

Mahomes tried to play down the spat, but as Around The NFL’s Nick Shook noted, he still wasn’t prepared to temper his aggressive instincts: “Keeping it rolling includes continuing to take shots and be aggressive, even if it doesn’t help Mahomes’ interception total. He’s said he’ll try to limit giveaways going forward, but not to the point where he’ll change the way he plays to avoid turnovers.”

It’s obvious from Sunday Reid and his staff have lost the battle to rein in Mahomes. That’s doubly frustrating considering the Chiefs saw the cost of failing to adjust a year ago.

Mahomes hasn’t learned lessons of Super Bowl LV

With the dust barely settled on last year’s Super Bowl, I wrote about how Mahomes needed to follow the example of Brady and avoid becoming another Aaron Rodgers. Mahomes had just been battered by a Bucs’ pass rush that feasted on a Chiefs’ offensive line missing both starting tackles.

Rather than adjust and max. protect or put two tight ends on the front, Reid let Mahomes play as if the Chiefs were fully healthy. Disaster predictably followed for a quarterback who’s convinced he can overcome any deficit, any down and distance, any injury problems.

Flash forward 12 months and Mahomes still resembles Rodgers. A supremely gifted athlete who is failing to win the titles his talents seemingly make inevitable.

Rodgers has fallen flat in pursuit of a second Super Bowl win with the Green Bay Packers for over a decade:

His latest setback came against the 49ers in the Divisional Round. It followed the same script as all the others. Rodgers started off hot, driving the Packers to a quick score. Then he crumbled under pressure from a relentless defense that adjusted while he stuck to the same formula of ad-lib and bravado.

That should sound familiar to Mahomes. He’s fallen into the same trap of putting his ego first. Brady didn’t win seven Super Bowls by doing those things. He did what was best for the team in each given situation.

Mahomes hasn’t taken the hint. Now he’s destined to end up like Rodgers. A quarterback who can conjure something out of nothing, but will likely end his career lamenting all the Lombardi Trophies he let slip through his grasp.

Originally published at https://franchisesports.co.uk on January 31, 2022.

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Arsenal, NFL History and Film Analysis from James Dudko

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James Dudko

James Dudko

Films, Footie and Gridiron, with the emphasis on Arsenal, NFL history and analysis of cinema from years past.