The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback is reinventing his position before our eyes. Watch these plays to understand how.
MIAMI—For almost the entire history of football, the sport’s most important position was played more or less the same way. And then Patrick Mahomes came along and made everyone in football wonder how they could have been so wrong for such a long time.
If the Super Bowl is the first time you’re watching Mahomes play, you’re about to see football like never before. He throws off-balance, without looking and even left-handed. He’s the league’s reigning most valuable player. And he is one Kansas City Chiefs win from his first championship because he breaks every convention of how to play quarterback.
“People have said for years: ‘You can’t get away with doing that,’” said Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who coached Mahomes at Texas Tech. “But if you’re that good, it doesn’t matter.”
This isn’t just the stuff of legend. One of the cool things about Mahomes being 24 years old is that his entire life in football (and other sports) has been chronicled by both iPhones and the most sophisticated camera technology that a billion-dollar television deal can buy. These are the plays that reveal the ways in which he experimented with crazy ideas about the most effective way to throw a football.
The final high-school football game of his senior year would turn out to be a preview of Mahomes’s time at Texas Tech and now with the Chiefs. Football was beginning to change dramatically in favor of the offense, and it was becoming clear that winning meant scoring more points than anyone ever imagined. This game offered a peek at how teams with Mahomes would keep scoreboard operators busy for many years to come.
Almost every teenage quarterback in Texas would have been sacked if he found himself in the arms of a linebacker named Malik Jefferson, who would one day play in the NFL himself. But not Mahomes. He escaped, scrambled and flung a touchdown pass off his back foot into the arms of Jake Parker. Few plays to this day better exemplify the ability to bring his imagination to life.
“You’re thinking during the play: How in the world does he keep doing that?” says Adam Cook, his coach at Whitehouse High School. “Those are things he did in high school and he’s continuing to do them now.”
But that wasn’t the only lesson NFL teams would have learned if they’d studied tape of this particular high-school game. Cook said it was representative of one of his most useful attributes as a modern quarterback.
“His ability to extend plays with his feet,” he said. “The difference is whenever he does buy time, he’s not doing it to run the ball. He’s doing it to throw the ball down the field.”
The Basketball Pass
Mahomes played his last football game on a Friday, joined the basketball team for practice the following Monday and played his first game of his senior year on Tuesday. This was not unusual—Mahomes is a case study for the virtues of playing multiple sports at a time when kids are pressured to specialize at earlier ages—but what happened next was.
A headband-wearing Mahomes secured a rebound underneath his own basket with two defenders swarming him as he was falling out of bounds. There was nowhere for him to go and nothing for him to do. Or at least that’s how it looked to everyone in the gym.
But with his body horizontal and his momentum dragging him in the opposite direction, Mahomes whipped a sidearm pass across half the court, over the entire defense and into the hands of Jake Parker for a layup—the very same Jake Parker who caught his touchdown pass a few days earlier.
It showed his awareness, his vision, his arm strength and finesse, his audacity to believe that he could make this pass and his deftness to actually pull it off. This was Mahomes, the football player, in one magnificent basketball play.
“It was one of those plays that you’ll never forget,” said Brent Kelley, his basketball coach.
The Improv Act
Kingsbury recruited Mahomes and Mahomes chose Texas Tech because they shared a vision. Kingsbury’s “Air Raid” offense gave Mahomes the structure to play an unstructured, almost improvisational form of football.
The play that illustrates this came in the first game of his first season as a full-time starter. He took the snap. He ran to his right. He ran backwards. He ran to his left. And then he threw a touchdown pass across his body.
“He still just plays this free style of game,” Kingsbury said. “When it’s off schedule, that’s when the magic happens.”
The Lefty Pass
Mahomes throws with his right hand. Except for the time he threw with his left hand.
Early in the 2018 season, the Chiefs trailed 23-20 to the Broncos late in the fourth quarter, and Mahomes saw the unwelcome sight of Von Miller. He darted to his left, approaching the sideline with one of the NFL’s best pass rushers chasing his ankles, and soon Mahomes was out of space. There was only one way to get the pass from one point to another: He switched the ball from his right hand to his left.
“Whoa,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
Tyreek Hill caught the lefty pass for a first down on a drive that resulted in a touchdown—and a Kansas City win.
Mahomes pulled off one of his most absurd feats when he turned a basketball move into a football one: He threw a no-look pass. Quarterbacks routinely look one way and then pass the other to throw off defenders. Mahomes did it at the same time.
After scrambling away from the Baltimore Ravens last year, Mahomes stepped forward in the pocket and kept his eyes trained on the center of the field. But when the ball left his hand, it went nowhere near the center of the field. It looked so unusual that the only reasonable explanation was that the ball was severely misthrown. His teammates knew better. They had seen him attempt these every day in practice.
“We knew it was going to happen at some point,” said Chiefs quarterback coach Mike Kafka. “We didn’t know when.”
The pass hit wide receiver Demarcus Robinson in the chest for a 17-yard gain. Mahomes needed the safety to move over, he said afterward, and he trusted Robinson would be in the right place. Robinson didn’t even know it was a no-look pass until he saw it on film afterward. “Everyone was talking about it like, ‘Bro, did you see that? How did he do that?’” Robinson says. “I was like, ‘Do what?’”
NFL defenders began to learn that Mahomes running and throwing usually results in them being embarrassed. Now they’re realizing that Mahomes can run—and keep running.
The Tennessee Titans became aware of this in the AFC Championship. Kansas City trailed Tennessee, 17-14, in the second quarter when Mahomes found himself in trouble. Then he pulled off a disappearing act: outrunning defenders in the backfield, juking another with a subtle cock of his head and dragging a few more into the end zone for the longest touchdown run of his career. It wasn’t just another play for high-school and college players to tell their friends about. It was a play that would catapult the Chiefs to the Super Bowl.
So how does he do all of it?
“A magician never reveals his tricks,” Mahomes once said.
But if you ask Nadella how he reinvented Microsoft in half a decade, he won’t talk about the cloud computing or the billion-dollar acquisitions. For him, changing the direction of a ship carrying 130,000 employees could only be done by changing the culture on board.
Thanks to Madonna’s restlessness, female pop stars are expected to reinvent themselves every few years, but there’s no guarantee that listeners will accept the changes. For Ms. Perry, the stakes couldn’t be higher: She believes she is now revealing her true self. The old Katy Perry is gone.
.. She has a well-known strategy for frustrating the paparazzi (wearing the same Adidas track suit when she leaves home to make the photographs less sellable)
.. For all of Ms. Perry’s talk about feminism and unity, it felt like a conventional catfight.
.. you have to understand her relationship to her biggest album, “Teenage Dream.” It had five No. 1 hits, tying a record Michael Jackson set with “Bad,” and solidified her image as a charmingly goofy sexpot who sings about love, partying and inner strength.
.. Part of the pressure stemmed from maintaining her hypersexual image, which Ms. Perry takes responsibility for helping create. “I used to be scared of intimacy, I used to use my sexualization as attention, I used to oversexualize myself because that was the only way I knew how,”
.. later explained why she holds queer women in high esteem: “I admire that they’re doing it for themselves. They are not doing it for the male gaze.”) It’s easy to read her drastic haircut and new stylistic choices — her live stream finale outfit covered her in neck-to-toe sequins — as a reaction to having worn whipped-cream bras in the past.
.. Ms. Perry credits her shift in perspective on her sexuality — she calls it “a full sexual liberation” — to resolving issues with her father. “The reality is that I was retriggered on the election,” she said. “I was retriggered by a big male that didn’t see women as equal. And that had been, unfortunately, a common theme in my upbringing.”
.. the Katy Perry I spent several days with: gregarious, intense, bold, endearing and full of contradictions.
.. she proclaimed herself devoted to dialogue but spoke in a near uninterrupted monologue.
.. The old Katy Perry wasn’t a construct, she explained, and she isn’t dead. “I didn’t kill her, because I love her, and she is exactly what I had to do then,”