INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Peer pressure.
That’s probably one way to explain what’s happening with the Kansas City Chiefs about now. Step into a huddle with Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, and there’s a certain standard to uphold.
Hello, Isiah Pacheco, Skyy Moore and Justin Watson.
The Chiefs traded away Tyreek Hill, one of the NFL’s most lethal weapons, last spring to the Miami Dolphins, and look at them now: It’s the same sort of flow. Never mind the recent rash of injuries on the offensive unit. Despite relying on a cast of new characters in key roles, Kansas City (8-2) has the NFL’s top-ranked offense and leads the league in averaging 30 points per game.
If you thought the Chiefs were destined to take a step back after dealing Hill, aka The Cheetah, for a cache of five draft picks, think again.
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Sure, the presence of Mahomes – on pace to set the league’s single-season record for passing yards – is as big a reason as any for the juggernaut. We saw it again on Sunday night when Mahomes finished off another 300-yard game by sparking another last-minute touchdown drive to beat the Los Angeles Chargers. Add the shrewd coaching from Andy Reid and his deep staff of lieutenants, plus the impact of a personnel department headed by GM Brett Veach, and well, the formula works.
It was so striking that before Mahomes found Kelce for a third scoring strike with 31 seconds left at L.A., there was major impact from the newcomers. Pacheco, a seventh-round rookie running back, put up his first 100-yard rushing game. Moore, a second-round rookie, and Watson, a fifth-year career backup who signed on as a free agent last offseason, were pressed into substantial roles at wide receivers after injuries kept starters Mecole Hardman and JuJu Smith-Schuster out of the lineup. They produced 63 and 67 receiving yards, respectively.
“We had a lot of new faces,” Mahomes said afterward. “To see them excel in moments like these is special because, obviously, we’ve done it in this organization for a little bit now. But to have those new guys step right in and make those plays is special.
“Not only on the offense. You look at the defense, it seemed like at one point, all the defensive backs were rookies or new guys. We have done a great job of bringing a lot of talented players in here and they have stepped up and made plays happen.”
Mahomes heard the rumblings in the offseason. How in the world would Kansas City replace the tremendous production (and clutch moments) that came from Hill? While Hill is thriving in Miami – leading the NFL with 81 catches and 1,148 yards – the Chiefs have managed well enough as they hold the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a commanding three-game lead in the AFC West as they head into a contest on Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, who are 3-7.
“We are just taking it week by week,” said Mahomes, who has thrown for an NFL-high 28 touchdowns and league-best 3,265 yards. “We take it day by day. We knew that we were going to grow this year and we are going to keep getting better and better. I am proud of our guys.”
Of course, it helps for Mahomes to draw on his uncanny chemistry with Kelce as his go-to target in the clutch. Kelce, who set an NFL record for tight ends with his 33rd 100-yard game on Sunday night, has picked up some of the slack with Hill’s departure. With an NFL-high 11 TD receptions, he’s already surpassed last season’s total of nine TDs. He’s on pace to set career highs with 117 receptions and 1,453 yards.
Yet, as the Chargers demonstrated for much of Sunday night, opposing defenses will be hell-bent on devising schemes to contain Kelce, which increases the need for others to step up.
“Just credit (Brett) Veach,” Mahomes said, alluding to the GM. “He brings a lot of good players in here … so I can just go out there and go through my reads and guys get open.”
While it may have appeared seamless on Sunday night, Reid knows. The benefits reaped now are traced to a process of integrating the new faces that began in training camp.
“Well, that and then rotating them in practice,” Reid said. “We have a lot of rookies that finished that game, so it was neat to see them step up and do what they did, whether it was in the secondary or at linebacker or at wide receiver. It was a neat thing to see those guys do that.”
As Mahomes alluded to, the Chiefs have benefitted from a tremendous draft class. All 10 of the draft picks are on the active roster, with five of them starting at least four games, including defensive starters Trent McDuffie, George Karlaftis and Leo Chenal.
Then there’s Pacheco, who inexplicably posted a 4.37 time in the 40-yard dash at the combine but lasted until the seventh round. He’s cracked the starting lineup and could be due for an even bigger role with the availability of Clyde Edwards-Helaire becoming more uncertain due to a high ankle sprain.
Regardless, the pressure to produce continues for the newest Chiefs.
“They’re going to have battle wounds,” Kelce said. “They’re going to have things that happen throughout a game, throughout a season, they’re going to have to learn from. It typically happens when they lose on a play or we lose a game, then we learn from it. We get better because of it.”
And the Chiefs getting better is a scary thought for the rest of the NFL.
Story Credit: usatoday.com