NBC cameras followed Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes as he walked to the sideline, with coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy meeting him there.
The discussion that ensued in Sunday’s Tennessee game wasn’t about whether the Chiefs would go for it on fourth-and-1 in overtime; they were. Instead, it was a collaboration between the staff’s top offensive minds, including the man who’d just come off the field.
“We wanted to get to the perfect play call,” Mahomes said this week.
So Bieniemy and Reid turned to Mahomes.
“What do you want to run?”
It’s not something that happens everywhere. There have been notable examples — even this season — of NFL QBs and play-callers clashing about what schemes should be called and when.
This Sunday sequence, then, serves as a fitting encapsulation of the Chiefs’ current synergy — a harmonious kinship that’s helped fuel the league’s top-rated offense … again.
“(Coaches) have a ton of trust in Pat — trust how he’s seen the game, trust that he’s got the best viewpoint sometimes,” said receiver Justin Watson, who was in the huddle for the sideline conversation. “So we were just running through our fourth-and-1 calls, and Pat had the final say on which one he liked.”
Earning that belief from coaches, though, isn’t just a given.
The reality of the play Mahomes picked? It was the product of pregame reflection that began more than 48 hours earlier.
Mahomes, it turned out, had already thought a lot about this exact situation.
‘How do we want to handle this?’
The first of two meetings happens Friday after practice.
Mahomes sits with Reid to review the team’s whole play sheet, as the two collaborate on the upcoming game plan.
Reid might explain the why of what he’s thinking with specific calls. Mahomes can give feedback, speaking about what he sees or his preference for particular plays.
It’s only the start of the Chiefs preparing for possible high-pressure moments ahead.
The next day — at the team hotel — a Saturday quarterback group session gets more detailed into plays for individual circumstances. For example, the team will come up with three calls it likes for “fourth and short,” with each QB communicating his pick on which he likes most.
“We have conversations with the quarterbacks the night before that (in-game) meeting in case we’re in this situation, ‘What’s your call?’” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “And we sit and discuss, so those things are already mapped out. You always got to go into a game with a contingency plan, ‘Hey, if this situation comes up, how do we want to handle this?’”
Thinking in those terms continued for Mahomes into Sunday’s game against Tennessee. He said he made an effort to speak with coaches before overtime about what the Chiefs might do if they needed one particular play to continue a drive.
So when the fourth-and-1 came up? He already had an idea of what KC ought to do.
“We had like a list of three and we were going to see how the defense was playing and that was one of the plays that we had talked about, and I said that’s the one that I wanted to go with,” Mahomes said. “And the coaches trusted me and the guys to go out there and make a play happen in a big moment in the game.”
Mahomes delivered. The passing play from fourth-and-1 on the Tennessee 11 was a concept called “Mesh Return,” as tight end Travis Kelce and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster ran toward each other from opposite sides of the formation while appearing like they were going to cross.
Tennessee’s defenders overplaying that initial look ended up freeing Smith-Schuster, as the receiver stuck his foot in the ground and pivoted back outside toward the sideline to clear space.
Once Mahomes saw a linebacker push toward Kelce to double-team him, he knew Smith-Schuster would have single coverage to his left. So the QB set his feet and hit his wideout, who turned upfield for a two-yard gain and the crucial conversion.
“Just trusting your guys to make plays,” Mahomes said, “and JuJu ran a good route.”
Calling his shot
It wasn’t the only time that Mahomes made a critical call in Sunday’s victory.
Mahomes also was asked his opinion ahead of the team’s two-point conversion attempt to tie the game in the fourth quarter; the Chiefs posted a sideline video after the game that briefly showed Mahomes and Reid talking on the sidelines before the team’s third two-point try following two downs of penalties.
“Coaches have full confidence that if Pat likes a play, then it’s gonna work. He’s gonna find a way,” Watson said. “If he calls his shot, then he’s going to make sure it works.”
Mahomes delivered on his own suggestion … even if it didn’t go as initially planned. After scanning his receivers, the quarterback chose to run himself, sneaking it into the end zone to tie the game before chucking the ball in celebration against the padded wall surrounding the field.
Watson said that result was part of a noteworthy Chiefs process.
It started with coaches entrusting their quarterback, leading to Mahomes executing with an unwavering sense of conviction.
The ball — and play call — was literally in his hands.
And this time, the earlier study and ensuing instincts culminated in Mahomes coming through when his team needed him most.
“He made a number of plays,” Watson said, “that I don’t think any other quarterback in the NFL makes to win us that football game.”