Certain talents emerge and change the game forever.
Jim Brown’s combination of size, speed and athleticism redefined the standard for everyone who followed. Lawrence Taylor revolutionized how to rush and protect the passer. Peyton Manning‘s cerebral approach advanced how quarterbacks prepare and the amount of responsibility placed on the position.
Patrick Mahomes is now redefining how we view the game’s most important position.
His breathtaking performance on Monday during the Kansas City Chiefs’ 27-23 victory over the rival Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium only solidified his ascendency.
The evolution of professional football is geared 100 percent toward quarterbacks and offensive play. As a result, wide-open passing attacks have become the norm. As NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks noted on Twitter, 13 different signal-callers threw for more than 300 yards this past weekend, with 24 receivers eclipsing 100 yards. Furthermore, the league featured 227 passing touchdowns through four weeks of play—an NFL record—before the Chiefs and Broncos even took the field.
Mahomes already set a record with 13 passing touchdowns through the first three weeks.
He is now the standard-bearer for what other franchises want from the position, because his game extends well beyond being a simple facilitator working within the Chiefs’ offensive structure, a la Alex Smith.
Instead, the second-year gunslinger brings an exciting brand of football that supersedes traditional approaches, even if he’s not playing flawless football. The days of Tom Brady and Drew Brees are coming to an end. Spread-style offenses with built-in pocket movement, run-pass options, zone reads, numerous slip screens and smoke routes as well as a heavy reliance on multiple-receiver sets allow the position to feature playmakers as much as cerebral assassins, who work best from inside the pocket.
Mahomes’ entire repertoire came into play when trailing the Broncos by 10 points with 12:47 remaining in the fourth quarter after failing to establish a rhythm in the first half. During Kansas City’s final two drives, Mahomes was 13 of 16 passing for 157 yards.
His overall efficiency at a critical juncture is actually less impressive than the natural playmaking the quarterback displayed in crucial situations.
Mahomes consistently avoided pressure, with his offensive line appearing to be out of sorts. His ability to create outside the pocket is something to behold, and the NFL hasn’t seen anything like it in a long time, per ESPN Stats Information:
ESPN Stats Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Patrick Mahomes has thrown for 192 yards out of the pocket tonight, the most such passing yards in the last 10 seasons.
Two examples can be found on those final drives, and they best encapsulate how the Chiefs quarterback is making a mockery of the game.
One highlight will be played over and over again in the coming days. Did everyone know Mahomes is ambidextrous? Neither did the Denver Broncos. While in the grasp of the game’s best edge rusher, Von Miller, the 23-year-old signal-caller switched hands and flicked the ball to Tyreek Hill for a crucial third-down conversion with just over three minutes remaining to keep the Chiefs alive:
@PatrickMahomes5 is UNREAL.
📺: #KCvsDEN on ESPN https://t.co/i9vac769Pc
Four plays later, the Chiefs faced another third-down as they chased a victory. No worries. Pressure from Mahomes’ blindside flushed the quarterback to his right, where he threw a rope to tight end Demetrius Harris:
Arif Hasan @ArifHasanNFL
also not bad https://t.co/TBP80AATsZ
“I knew if I could give my receiver time to get open that I could throw it to them and make plays,” Mahomes told reporters. “When you play defenses like this in one of the more hostile environments in this league, it becomes a confidence booster to face adversity and come out with a win.”
Mahomes is at his absolute best when he’s unleashed and playing good ol’ backyard football, much like Brett Favre did during his illustrious career.
The difference is the Chiefs aren’t worried about reining in Mahomes like Mike Holmgren once did with his Hall of Fame quarterback. Kansas City knew exactly what it was getting when the team chose its face of the franchise.
“Chiefs general manager Brett Veach, who is a far cry from the spread panickers of years past, told me his team didn’t even consider what type of offense Mahomes was playing in at Texas Tech before they traded up to draft him with the 10th overall pick in 2017,” The Ringer’s Kevin Clark reported. “Rather, they just evaluated the player’s skills.”
The Chiefs are playing to their quarterback’s strengths instead of trying to shoehorn him into a specific scheme. Mahomes played in a dreaded Air Raid variation during his time at Texas Tech. He’s still doing so, in a manner of speaking. Mahomes has been especially effective working in five-receiver sets, per Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo:
Steve Palazzolo @PFF_Steve
Patrick Mahomes in “empty” sets coming into the game:
15-for-18 208 yards 3 TD 0 INT
154.4 passer rating
Adaptability is the name of the game.
The Chiefs are well ahead of other offenses around the league, because the coaching staff allows the prodigiously talented quarterback to be himself in a system with play-calls suited to his skill set and the freedom to capitalize on his exceptional free-styling capabilities.
Mahomes is unique. His elite arm talent, athleticism and intelligence provide the complete package. Other organizations can’t replicate someone so gifted. Nor should they try.
But others can take a similar approach by building their systems around their quarterbacks and allowing them to do more, even if it actually means simplifying certain aspects.
Even after Mahomes looked human for one half, his superpowers ignited in the second half once again to provide the NFL with the hero it needed.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.