KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Beyond the pile of problems the Kansas City Chiefs should have expected entering this season is one they might not have considered.
The Chiefs, having lost two in a row, are suddenly getting average play from quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the NFL’s reigning MVP.
The numbers don’t lie: For the first time in his career, Mahomes has played three straight games with a passer rating lower than 100. He had the two lowest QBRs of his career, both lower than 57, in the past two games. The Chiefs also had their two lowest scoring games with Mahomes as their starter the past two weeks, with 13 and 24 points.
During his first season as a starter in 2018, Mahomes became the second quarterback to throw 50 touchdown passes and for more than 5,000 yards. After gliding to another strong start this season — he threw 10 touchdown passes and for almost 1,200 yards in the first three games — the Chiefs quarterback finds himself amidst the first real adversity of his pro career.
“I’ve definitely been through adverse times when I was in college of not winning the game I felt like we could have won,” Mahomes said Monday as the Chiefs began preparations for Thursday’s game at the Denver Broncos (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox). “There were certain times at Texas Tech when we didn’t do the things we wanted to as an offense to find ways to win. My first year here, the team went through a little stretch where they weren’t winning games.
“It’s a long season. You can figure it out. … There [are] difficult times in the NFL. Teams are good, and we’ve played some great opponents so far this season, and we’ll have to find a way to get this thing rolling again on a short week against a great opponent.”
How Mahomes responds and how quickly will determine the course of the season for the 4-2 Chiefs. They will fall to second place in the AFC West, something that seemed unfathomable just two weeks ago, if they lose to the Broncos and the 3-2 Oakland Raiders beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
The Chiefs need their quarterback on his game if they’re going to reverse field again.
“Expectations are high,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. “We need to play at that level.”
The quarterback is almost always the most affected player when things are falling apart around him, and that’s the situation in Mahomes’ case. The Chiefs have been sloppy on both sides of the ball. They had four offensive penalties that cost them 35 yards in the first quarter of Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the Houston Texans. They’ve missed several tackles on defense in each of their recent games.
“We’ve got a bunch of things we’ve got to work on here and get turned around,” coach Andy Reid said. “I’ve seen us do it better, and we will do it better.
“Every season is going to give you some hurdles that you have to scale. This is one of those challenges. It tests you. But we’ll bear down. We’ll bear down and get it done.”
That has to start with the defense. The Chiefs have allowed at least 180 rushing yards in each of their past four games, which has allowed their opponents to dominate time of possession and keep Mahomes and the offense off the field for large chunks of the game.
The situation was at its worst against the Texans, as the Chiefs had the ball for just 20:12. That’s the least time of possession for the Chiefs in a home game since the stat was first tracked in 1977.
The Chiefs had three possessions in the second half — one of which they scored on — and still lost by only seven points. They would have had to be a perfect 3-for-3 to win. The defense is leaving the Chiefs with little margin for error, and the offense has been far from perfect.
Mahomes’ protection has been a problem. In the loss to Houston, the Chiefs sustained their blocks for at least 2.5 seconds on just 35% of their pass plays, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. That’s the second-lowest rate of Mahomes’ career.
The Chiefs have also largely abandoned their running game, which doesn’t help in relieving pressure from a quarterback and a struggling passing game. The Chiefs dropped back to pass on 79% of their plays the past two weeks, the highest rate in the league.
“That’s some of what you deal with if you’re in the [run-pass option] game,” Reid said. “If you’re doing that, you’ve got some that are going to end up throws. That’s how we roll. We’ll go back and look at it and see what we can do better there.”
Ultimately, it’s on Mahomes to play better. He has missed some open receivers in recent games, a fact reflected by his lower completion percentage. His percentages the past two weeks (56.4% and 54.3%, respectively) were his lowest of the season.
That could partially be attributed to the sprained left ankle Mahomes suffered in Week 1. He has been on the injury report ever since. He hasn’t missed any practice or game time, but clearly he has been affected. He has limped to and from the huddle at times and all the way off the field to end a series on occasion.
“If I felt my ankle was affecting the team and the success of the offense, I would for sure move on,” Mahomes said. “But at the same time, I feel like I’m still moving around. I’m still able to run, scramble, throw. I’m good now. … I still get treatment and stuff like that, but I feel like I can still do everything I need to do.”
The Chiefs are counting on it.
“We’re going to bounce back,” wide receiver Tyreek Hill said. “We’re the Chiefs. That’s what we do. We’ve got the MVP quarterback.”