KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Shortly after quarterback Patrick Mahomes found out he wasn’t going to play in last Sunday’s regular-season finale, he headed to the Kansas City Chiefs‘ practice facility to draw up some plays he planned to share with his coaches. His would-be two-week break from football had barely lasted a couple of hours.
It was part of Mahomes’ plan to stay sharp. He and many of the Kansas City regulars didn’t play in Week 17 with the Chiefs having already clinched the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed. As the top seed, the Chiefs get the AFC’s playoff bye this weekend.
Mahomes was on the Arrowhead Stadium field a couple of hours before Sunday’s 38-21 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, throwing to receivers Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, who both would sit out the game.
“You have to stay on top of things like that,” Mahomes said. “Another thing that I did that drove the coaches crazy is that I drew up like 25 plays. I was just in there drawing up plays forever and hopefully I can get a few of them in and we can get a few touchdowns in the postseason.”
Staying sharp during an extended break isn’t a bad idea, but the idea of him not playing well after missing a couple of weeks is the least of the Chiefs’ concerns. Last year, after missing two games at midseason because of a knee injury, Mahomes returned to throw three touchdown passes and for a season-high 446 yards against the Tennessee Titans.
The Chiefs will head into the playoffs either Jan. 16 or Jan. 17 using a group of players whose last game action together was Week 16 against the Atlanta Falcons. To Mahomes, at least, the benefits outweigh the risks. The Chiefs were taken to the end in each of their seven games prior to the one against the Chargers, winning all seven but none by more than six points.
“We had some battles there at the end of the season, and games like the Saints and the Bucs and even the Falcons, they were physical football games,” Mahomes said. “For us to be able to get back healthy, get everybody back to 100 percent, I think we’ll be able to utilize our speed and our power as we get into the playoffs and really have the best Kansas City Chiefs football team that you’ve seen since the beginning of the year.
“It’s huge. Having the two weeks, you can kind of mentally take off that first week. … We still practice. It’s not like a regular bye in the season when you’re kind of taking days off and not doing anything. We’re still practicing and even practicing pretty fast, faster probably than normal. Physically, we’ll be fine. It’s having that mental break that will really rejuvenate everybody, keep everybody ready to go, ready to be at work every single day and be the best possible player they can be for the team.”
The Chiefs, with an NFL-best 14-2 record, are under pressure to repeat as Super Bowl champions. They were 4-0 against other playoff teams, the only team to be undefeated in the regular season against the rest of the field.
“If you watched us throughout the season, it feels like we always raised up and played better in the big games,” Mahomes said. “I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. Knowing that the next three are going to be big games, I know I’m going to get the best effort out of every single guy on this team and we’re going to raise our game to be even better. I’m excited for it because I know what this team can do. It can be a special run.”
Much of the pressure falls on Mahomes. But he has played well in the postseason. He has 13 touchdown passes, two interceptions, a 106.6 passer rating and four victories in five playoff games.
“For a young guy, he handles [expectations] very well,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He manages it, he stays focused on the football, he takes it home with him and studies. He’s always in the film room studying. All of those things haven’t changed.
“He seems to be focused in on things and it doesn’t seem to be stressing him out too much.”
Mahomes is a candidate for MVP again after having won the award in 2018, his first full season as a starter. He finished second in the league in passing yards (4,740) after taking the lead into the season’s final game and was fourth in touchdown passes (38).
“It’s something you would love to have but not something that’s necessarily something you strive for,” Mahomes said of the passing yards title. “To me, it’s about winning football games. I always believe that if you win football games and play the game the right way, that stuff handles itself. I would obviously love to have it, love to have that trophy, but if it doesn’t happen and we find a way to win the Super Bowl, I’ll be perfectly fine with it, I promise you.”