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Patrick Mahomes Needs To Cut Down On ‘Hero Ball’

  • The Draft Network
  • November 4, 2021
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The Kansas City Chiefs—who many believed early on would return to the Super Bowl for a third straight year—are currently 4-4 and in third place in the AFC West. They’re not out of the playoffs by any means, but it’s time we talked about what has been going on with Patrick Mahomes this season.

When the 2021 season began, there was no doubt nor argument that the best active quarterback in the NFL was Mahomes. In three seasons as the Chiefs’ starter, he: became the king of highlight plays, was named a three-time Pro Bowler, received first- and second-team All-Pro honors, won the AFC Championship twice, threw 50 touchdowns in a single season, won an MVP award, was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year, won a Super Bowl, and won the Super Bowl MVP. That was all before he turned 26.

For three years, Mahomes has had the skill (and sometimes, luck) to make plays that didn’t seem possible. Throws while he’s parallel to the ground, pass attempts from every arm slot, and even no-look throws. It really felt like if Mahomes wanted to do something at any given moment, he was somehow going to find a way to do it. That he was going to single-handedly destroy your favorite team’s defense and make it look easy.

This year has been a distinctly different start for Mahomes and the Chiefs offense from what we’ve gotten used to seeing. After a big comeback win against the Cleveland Browns to open the season, Kansas City dropped back-to-back games against the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers. Those games featured the first interceptions Mahomes had ever thrown in the month of September. For the first time since he had become the Chiefs’ starter, Kansas City had a losing record.

Looking back at those two interceptions, they seemed out of character for Mahomes then, but in hindsight appear to have been symptoms of a larger issue: the hero ball. That luck the Chiefs’ quarterback has had for years seems to be running out; he hasn’t been able to make all those impossible plays anymore. Instead, he’s been forcing a lot of those throws, thinking that the burden is all on him to make the offense click like he’d been able to do for years. The result has been a lot of bad interceptions, to the point now where Mahomes has had at least one interception in every game since the first week of the season. He currently leads the NFL in picks with his 10 in eight weeks.

We don’t have to look too far back to find some of these bad plays, since we saw one in the Chiefs’ first drive of the game on Monday night.

While it’s easy to understand Mahomes and his competitiveness wanting to put more than three points on the board in his first drive, that wasn’t a necessary play. The pressure was coming, yes, but the jump during the throw caused an inaccurate pass and confusion on the receiving end. Instead of ending the first drive with three points, Kansas City scored zero, and they were lucky to be bailed out by an immediate Daniel Jones interception on the following drive.

Another play that showed off Mahomes’ poor decision-making was another third-down play in a game two weeks earlier.

With the Chiefs down three just before the half, they found themselves in field goal range on 3rd-and-short. Mahomes fumbles the snap on the designed run play, and instead of diving on it or just taking a sack after scooping it up, he heaves the ball straight up in the air with Chase Young around his feet and Khaleke Hudson grabbing his waist. It was as if it were a game of 500 on the playground, and the Football Team won with their easy interception.

Of course, as if to undercut the point I’m making, the Chiefs won both of those games. Then again, Washington and New York don’t have good football teams, and the Giants game on Monday Night Football was too close for the skill gap between the two teams. But there are other poor throws, too. The back foot heave for a late pick against the Chargers lost the game for Kansas City. It gave Los Angeles the ball at midfield with less than two minutes left and all of their timeouts in a tie game.

This isn’t all to say Mahomes is bad now or that the Chiefs’ losses have all been his fault—he isn’t bad and the Kansas City defense deserves a lot of the blame for some losses—it's just that his decision-making has to improve going forward. Not every incredible, magical play he’s made in the past is without some degree of luck, and that’s something he needs to learn.

At the end of the day, trying too hard to make something happen has lost the Chiefs games this season. They could be in a worse position if not for some good luck and bad opposing coaching, but they could also be in a much better position with winnable games against the Ravens and Chargers. If Mahomes can cut down on “hero ball” shenanigans and begin to play and make decisions with what he’s given, it puts his team in a position to win more in close games. If they can do that, they can push their way back into the playoffs.

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