We know the Red Sox are always in market for an extra pitching arm. Maybe they should swing by Gillette Stadium next Sunday night and check out the quarterback.
Not Tom Brady.
We’re talking about Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs’ second-year quarterback has shown off his incredible arm strength many times this season, from casual field-length warm-up tosses to thick-of-the-action lasers through traffic. It is strength honed partly by his early prowess in baseball, not all that surprising considering he’s the son of a former major leaguer. Yet as Mahomes comes flying into New England for next Sunday’s national nighttime clash against the Patriots, baseball is no longer on his mind. He gave that up years ago. Now, he’s merely the hottest quarterback in football.
Fresh off a 30-14 win over a Jaguars team that was supposed to serve as litmus test on whether the Mahomes hype was real, the second-year pro led his high-octane offense over the league’s top-ranked defense with ease. The game wasn’t even as close as the score indicates, pushing the Chiefs to a 5-0 record, one of only two unblemished marks remaining in the NFL (the Rams are the other). So now it’s the Patriots’ turn to face the test. Could the Chiefs really be a legitimate threat to long-held AFC dominance?
I, for one, can’t wait to find out.
The Patriots did an excellent job of righting their listing ship with back-to-back wins over the Dolphins and Colts. The Sunday-Thursday sweep gave them some room in the standings (pushing their record to 3-2), brought them some firepower on offense (the return of Julian Edelman, the addition of Josh Gordon, the emergence of Sony Michel), and earned them a few extra days of restful sleep.
Then came Sunday, when Mahomes woke them up with yet another winning effort, reminding them that he’s not going to make it easy for them to make it three wins in a row. He may have had his most pedestrian statistical output in completing 22 of 38 passes for 313 yards, zero touchdowns, and his first two interceptions of the year. And there were no late-game heroics or crazy lefthanded throws, no six-touchdown tosses or 150-plus quarterback rating. But none was needed.
In spreading those passes among nine different receivers, in controlling the offense on a difficult, rainy day, in finishing off his first drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, Mahomes did plenty to send the warning flares to a Patriots defense that hasn’t quite hit its groove, ranked 16th in the NFL, at 366 yards given up a game.
“One word would be dynamic,” Patriots’ defensive play-caller Brian Flores said Friday when looking ahead to Mahomes. “They’re obviously a very good team, very good skill players — [Travis] Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Mahomes. I mean, these guys are playing at a high level right now, so that’s going to be a big challenge.”
Of course, we didn’t think the Pats would be caught by surprise. These guys watch the NFL. They know what’s going on. Coverage of Mahomes has picked up intensity every week, from a scintillating preseason run to a record-setting 14-touchdowns-in-his-first-four-career-starts streak. Players were getting asked about him in the locker room Thursday night, the paint not even dry on their dismantling of Indianapolis. They were hugely complimentary, but they also understood where the questions were coming from: Mahomes has been great, and the Patriots have been shaky. Shaky enough to go from surrendering three points in the first half of the game to 24 overall, to giving up 439 total yards and watching a huge second half lead dwindle to a single touchdown.
They’ll no doubt answer many, many more questions about Mahomes this week, how he and his teammates represent the new AFC barometer. As the long-running occupants of the throne, the Patriots have an opportunity to make a statement of their own, to do on defense what the Jaguars couldn’t, and to keep pace on offense the way they teased they might be able to do on Thursday. With their leader a 41-year-old ageless wonder squaring off against Mahomes’s recently-turned-23 youthful exuberance, this tale of two quarterbacks promises so much fun.
Once upon a time, Mahomes was a Texas prep baseball standout good enough to pitch a high school no-hitter, strike out 16 in one game, and get selected in the 37th round of the 2014 Major League draft. But the son of longtime Major League pitcher Pat Mahomes already had realized by his final year of high school that he preferred football as an athletic path, and after a prolific college career at Texas Tech (featuring a brief attempt at playing for both the football and baseball teams), he was drafted 10th overall by the Chiefs.
And now, as Week 5 in the NFL draws to a close, the football world is talking about him, how he has taken over the Chiefs starting job in his sophomore NFL season and taken them out to such a hot start, how he is thriving at the helm of one of the league’s two undefeated teams, how he has handled the pressure of a spotlight and the pressure of opposing defenses with equal ease, how he surely knew what he was doing when he gave up his father’s sport to make a name in his own.
He passed his own litmus test Sunday. Now he comes to New England presenting the Pats with one of their own.