The future is now (for a game): Mahomes to start for Chiefs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes II snapped a 34-year streak in which the Chiefs eschewed drafting a quarterback in the first round when they traded up to pick him 10th overall earlier this year.
Now, he’s set to snap an even longer streak.
Mahomes will make his regular-season debut for the Chiefs when they visit the Denver Broncos on Sunday in an otherwise meaningless game. It will be the first time since Steve Fuller in 1979 that Kansas City has started a rookie quarterback in a non-strike year.
“I’m ready to go,” said Mahomes, who won the backup job to Alex Smith in training camp but hasn’t seen the field since the preseason. “I’m ready to go out there and try the best I can to win a game.”
The Chiefs (9-6) don’t need to win it, though. They clinched back-to-back AFC West titles for the first time in franchise history with their victory last week over Miami. And with no way to improve their playoff positioning, it makes sense for coach Andy Reid to give Smith and a few others the week off.
Still, the decision adds some intrigue to a game that had precious little of it.
Mahomes was the first quarterback drafted by the Chiefs in the first round since Todd Blackledge in 1983, a maddening stretch of time for their long-suffering fan base. But it was a move Reid was willing to make with an eye on the future, when the 33-year-old Smith will either be too expensive — his contract is astronomical next season — or too old to effectively play the position.
Mahomes showed off a rocket for an arm during the preseason, and his ability to make something out of nothing has drawn comparisons to another Reid protege: Brett Favre.
He also has a gunslinger’s mentality that stands in stark contrast to Smith, whose penchant for check-downs and conservative decisions has led the Chiefs to four playoff appearances in five years but failed to win over a fan base that prefers the high-octane offenses of yesteryear.
For his part, Smith is on board with giving Mahomes a shot this week, even though he’s in the midst of the best year of his career and could be looking for a job if he’s released this offseason.
“I mean, at this point it’s a good thing, to get healthy,” he said. “Not every team gets something like this, to get healthy heading into the playoffs. I think it’s important to take advantage of it. You get a week off. How do you handle it?”
Reid declined to say who else will get a week off, but he indicated that Mahomes will have enough support that the young quarterback will have a legitimate opportunity to succeed.
“It’s not going to hurt him, for sure,” Reid said. “He’ll learn from it. Every snap he gets is valuable, whenever he gets that chance of getting in there. It’s invaluable. And fortunately, we’re in a situation where we can do that. Fortunately, we have a quarterback in Alex that understands it.”
Mahomes said he’s been preparing like a starter all season, a byproduct of being the backup, even though he’s accustomed to running the scout team in practice. The biggest difference this week will be in the number of first-team reps he gets — the majority of them as Smith operates the scout squad.
“That’s a big thing. At the same time, I’ve been trying to do the best I can every single week,” Mahomes aid. “I’m sure they’ll tailor some things to me, but our offense is great already.”
In truth, it’s been humming along quite well during a three-game win streak, and there is some risk in losing that momentum. But Reid thinks that positive vibe will continue regardless of the outcome.
“I’ve done it this way before,” he said, “and it’s gone pretty well.”
NOTES: OLB Tamba Hali sat out practice to rest his knees, which is usual when the team works on the indoor turf. The Chiefs were driven inside by temperatures in the single digits Wednesday. … DT Bennie Logan also got the day off from practice, though Reid did not indicate any injury.