The Thread: Patrick Mahomes is on track to be the greatest ever (with a little help from Tom Brady)
A former teammate's take on how the Chiefs' quarterback took his game to a GOAT-level. Plus, the Vikings rally and Derrick Henry dominates in The Thread.
Welcome to the first edition of The Thread! Each Monday we’ll take a look at what happened on Sunday right here.
It is impossible to be hyperbolic on the subject of, one, Patrick Mahomes. There is no such thing as exaggeration. Each week, the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback finds a new way to boggle our minds.
All we’re left to do is wonder… how?
We hit rewind on the DVR. We pick up our jaw. We watch that escape, that vision, that throw once more and, no, we never really get an explanation because nobody has ever played quarterback quite like Mahomes. He effectively fuses a combination of sports into his own spellbinding interpretation of the position. At the age of 25, Mahomes is already — unquestionably, objectively — on a fast track to becoming the greatest player of all-time. So, with Mahomes facing the man who is currently anointed the best ever — Tom Brady, six rings ‘n all — I figured it was worth placing a phone call to one person who may be able to explain how this all happened so damn fast.
Because, in reality, Mahomes and Brady couldn’t be any more different aesthetically.
We all saw that in the Chiefs’ 27-24 win over Tampa Bay Sunday night. Both are unbelievably gifted but in unbelievably different ways.
Exceptional quarterbacks come and go, so what qualities do these two both possess? How is Mahomes already knocking at that door? Nic Shimonek has some answers. We first chatted for this feature on Mahomes a year ago. Nobody witnessed Mahomes’ rapid rise up close quite like Shimonek, the quarterback’s backup for three years at Texas Tech. He was with Mahomes every day. He saw his growth firsthand. So even though Shimonek is at the animal hospital on a Saturday night because his new puppy got walloped playing with his two Italian mastiffs in the backyard, he tries his best to put a few of these puzzle pieces together for the people.
First off, he knew Mahomes was physically gifted right away. From the moment he met him, Shimonek told himself, “He’s different.” But Mahomes started to harness this all for good his sophomore year at Texas Tech when — with coach Kliff Kingsbury, with Shimonek — he watched film of… Brady. All the time. He couldn’t get enough. He broke Brady’s game down to a science. Kingsbury would sprinkle in some film of Matt Ryan and Drew Brees, too, but Brady was obviously king. Brady was the standard.
Mahomes studied the subtle nuances of Brady’s game — footwork, mechanics, eye placement, everything.
For a quarterback who played so extremely “off the cuff,” Shimonek says, these film sessions were critical. Watching Brady, it hit Mahomes: If I fuse these fundamentals into my game, the sky’s the limit. So even with practice and class and weekly gameplans filling his schedule, Mahomes always made time for hours and hours of watching the GOAT.
He learned, in time, how to channel the wildness in his game.
“A lot of it is not trying to redirect how Patrick plays the game because nobody would ever want to do that,” Shimonek says. “But it adds to what he can bring to the table. I think it’s blending some of the techniques those guys were using so effectively in the pocket. And then Kliff being Kliff, he would let Patrick do his thing.”
It was a perfect storm. At no point did Kingsbury try to inhibit creativity. If Mahomes ever, say, audibled to a deep ball on fourth and 1, Kingsbury never lost his mind. He’d simply ask Mahomes why he did that and if he said he liked the 1-on-1 matchup out wide, that was cool with him.
“There were times,” Shimonek says, “Patrick knew even before we snapped the ball that he was going to take off running. Just based off of what the defense was giving him. He wasn’t going to go through his reads. He was just going to say, ‘Hut!’ and it was street ball at that point. So I think, again, going back to the film of Brady, I think it kind of married Pat’s game to the old-school game of Brady, Peyton Manning and those guys. Because if you watch him now, he is more calm in the pocket. Of course, he is exceptional outside of the pocket but I think he is brilliant in the pocket. And that is something people didn’t really expect him to be able to do.”
Which brings us to Sunday.
Patrick Mahomes’ first act was a masterpiece.
With Tyreek Hill lined up to his right, Mahomes likely knows it’s game over before the ball’s even snapped. Tampa Bay is deploying a single-high safety. All Mahomes has to do is get that safety, rookie Antoine Winfield Jr., to freeze for 1 1/2 Mississippis and this is a touchdown. It just takes a little Brady-esque deception with his eyes. Mahomes takes the shotgun snap, looks left knowing full well he isn’t throwing left, redirects right and launches a bomb to Hill whose cornerback is eating dust by then.
The ball travels 58 yards in the air. With ease.
It’s a 75-yard touchdown.
The next possession, it’s third and 8. With three receivers to his left, Mahomes barks an audible. For some reason, the Buccaneers still aren’t giving cornerback Carlton Davis any help on Hill. Mahomes manipulates the defense with his eyes (again), hits Hill (again) and, bam, it’s 17-0. When Tampa Bay then has no choice but to play a two-deep shell to stop the bleeding, Mahomes has no problem carving them up underneath. He sees exactly what tight end Travis Kelce sees in these situations.
There’s another Brady connection here, too.
You just have to look a little closer, Shimonek explains.
Look to 2003. That’s when Kingsbury spent a season with the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots as a part-time quarterback, part-time (er, unofficial) quality control coach. Technically on injured reserve, Kingsbury had access to the minds of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and did not intend to waste it. He helped coaches with film cut-ups. He’d find, for example, all “third and-10-plus” plays, all “third and medium” plays, all “third and short” plays for a given opponent. Hours… and hours… and hours… were spent doing the grunt work. And he loved it. He couldn’t get enough. He forged a lifelong friendship with Brady.
Fast forward to the summer of 2016 and Kingsbury knew Mahomes had a shot at going in the top 10 of the NFL Draft if he just worked harder in the weight room. Up to that point, teammates loved making fun of Mahomes for being “chubby” and for having a comical “fat-boy jog.” They’d tell him to lay off the cheeseburgers.
Kingsbury asked Shimonek to push Mahomes to a new level, training-wise, and he did.
Mahomes worked out like never before and lit it up that final season at Texas Tech.
It’s funny to think back to when the Cardinals hired Kingsbury and the hire was, universally, bashed. Shimonek still remembers Stephen A. Smith’s criticism then — the ESPN host said Kingsbury belonged on “The Bachelor,” not an NFL sideline.
What no one realized then was how hard Kingsbury worked. The time he pours into innovation.
His demeanor isn’t exactly as gruff as a Belichick, but he knew how a Belichick worked, how a Brady worked and that all rubbed off on Mahomes.
Don’t get Shimonek wrong. There’s a very new-school appeal to Kingsbury. He played at Iowa for Kirk Ferentz before transferring to Texas Tech and Ferentz, he assures, is “the exact opposite. So old school, so by the book, it’s hard to have a true relationship with him unless you’re an offensive lineman.” Kingsbury? Kingsbury cultivates very real relationships with players while, still, attacking the job with an old-school mentality. He was at the Texas Tech facility by 3:30 a.m. most mornings and didn’t leave until 8:30 p.m.
Such was the day-to-day environment of a future legend, Mahomes.
“Kliff puts the time and the effort in and he’s not going to ask anything of anybody that he wouldn’t personally do,” Shimonek says. “It was fun to watch. I remember we were game-planning — I think for Oklahoma State, Pat’s junior year — and I remember Kliff pulled up a play that the New York Jets ran against the Cleveland Browns in like Week 3 and it was a trick play. I said, ‘How did you find this play?’ And he was like, ‘Bro, I’ve watched every single snap of every single offensive possession in the entire NFL last season — Weeks 1 through 17.’ He watched every snap of every team. So he could go back to Play 46, Bears vs. Lions, and pull a little unique passing concept that they ran one time in the game and implement it into our gameplan that week. It was fascinating.
“He’d bring in a Legal notepad, the yellow notepad, and it would just be… the entire thing would have scribble on it. Every single play of the entire notepad. And he would just sit at his main chair at the table all the quarterbacks sat at and start flipping through pages. Pages, pages, pages. And then, ‘Oh, here it is.’ And he’d pull out a play and it’s on like the 75th page. It’s some little concept he found from Bowling Green vs. like Montana State. I’m like, ‘Bro, how do you find this stuff?’ It was pretty exceptional.”
Mahomes’ work ethic reached a new level.
Mahomes’ mind reached a new level.
By the time he was a rookie with the Chiefs, he was getting harder to reach. Shimonek remembers Mahomes cutting their chats short because he had to watch film… at 9:30 p.m… as a backup. Now? There’s minimal communication beyond “good luck” texts before games and “great job” texts after because he knows Mahomes has no time to spare.
“He turned into such a hard worker,” Shimonek says. “It’s hard not to look at Kliff and see the work he has put in and say, ‘I want to do what he does.’”
No wonder the second act last night was just as good.
It’s third and 8. Jason Pierre-Paul has Mahomes dead to rights. Mahomes doesn’t panic. Mahomes, instead, toasts JPP around the edge and hits Demarcus Robinson for a first down. The speed, the agility, it’s all no accident.
It’s third and 1. The Bucs crowd eight defenders into the box. Mahomes runs an option play to the right with Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Devin White — one of the most agile linebackers in the NFL — beelines to the QB and, as if hypnotized, glides right past him. He either was flat-out fooled by Mahomes or simply didn’t expect him to keep the ball. Mahomes gains 17 yards. He can’t help but smile on his way back to the huddle.
Two plays later, he missiles a touchdown right past Davis’ earhole for a third touchdown to Hill.
The ball placement is insane. The arm strength, freakish.
This is the same defense that embarrassed Aaron Rodgers.
The Chiefs go up, 27-10.
And after Brady strikes back with two scores of his own, Mahomes ices a win with two more athletic plays you can’t help but think would’ve been impossible if he didn’t get his butt in gear that summer of ’16.
Mahomes’ final line is sublime: 37 of 49 for 462 yards, three touchdowns with no picks.
Maybe they don’t chat as much as they used to but, when they do, Mahomes makes it pretty clear to Shimonek. All this GOAT stuff? Yeah, it does mean something to Mahomes.
“Patrick wants to be the best ever,” Shimonek says. “We talk about it pretty often.
“In order to be the best ever, you have to win championships. So that’s his No. 1 goal right now — to win another Super Bowl. If an MVP or a Super Bowl MVP come along with it, I think that’s great. I think he thinks that’s great. But as long as he’s holding a Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year.
“If he’s putting up the numbers he’s currently putting up? For five or 10 more years? And he has a couple of Super Bowls? It’s not even going to be a question. It’s not going to be a Jordan/LeBron, ‘Who is it?’ It’s going to be Patrick and everybody else. If he continues on even somewhat of the track he’s currently on.”
With that, I hear a noise in the background over the phone. It’s the vet.
Good news, everyone. Shimonek’s puppy is now in a cast and he’ll be OK.
On to the rest of Sunday…
The Vikings aren’t dead yet.
At his own 14-yard line, with 2 minutes and 10 seconds left, wide receiver Chad Beebe muffed a punt and it sure seemed like the Minnesota Vikings’ season, right then, blew up in smoke.
The Panthers led, 24-21. This was all but over.
And, in a blink, the Vikings had new life.
Teddy Bridgewater missed a wide-open D.J. Moore for a touchdown. The Panthers settled for a field goal. Kirk Cousins turned it on. And Beebe got his redemption with a 10-yard, game-winning touchdown catch that kept the Vikings very much alive at 5-6 in the NFC. Give Cousins credit for staying calm and cool in a spot he’s struggled with in the past and give Beebe credit for bouncing back. This is the kind of attrition Terence Newman and others spoke at length about in our Go Long two-parter on the Mike Zimmer-led Vikings.
Newman believes this is a head coach who hardens you for a moment exactly like that one.
Still, this also is a head coach who is described as someone quick to yank a player off the field after making a mistake of this magnitude. (Particularly, on defense.) Here, Zimmer trusted Beebe and that trust paid off.
“We’ve all mistakes,” Zimmer said at his postgame press conference. “It’s not one of those things where if you make a mistake, you’re done. It’s you make a mistake, you forget about it and move on and go about your business. … When you play sports and do the things we do, everybody’s going to make a mistake here and there. He’s not the only one who’s ever muffed a punt in his life.”
Minnesota is one game out of the playoff race.
Up next is Jacksonville, a team that just fired its GM.
Remember the Titans?
It’d be easy to forget. Mahomes has that effect. He vanquished Tennessee in the AFC Championship Game with one scramble for the ages and I think we all assumed that the Titans simply couldn’t exchange body blows with the league’s best player for four quarters.
After that play, that day at Arrowhead, the Chiefs simply ran away.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe any team that relies this heavily on the run is forever doomed. But, I don’t know. Part of me can’t help but think it’ll take one superhero to slay another — and the Titans certainly have one in Derrick Henry. There may not be this dominant of an individual player in the sport this side of Mahomes. Against an Indianapolis Colts run defense that was allowing 3.18 yards per rush, Henry was unstoppable. Henry ran the ball 27 times for 178 yards and three scores and, OK, DeForest Buckner (COVID-19) wasn’t in the line-up. That’s quite the void.
This was still a beatdown.
Most telling? Henry’s longest run was only 31 yards. He consistently bashed away at the Colts at 6.6 yards a clip. Imagine the physical toll. The mental toll. Every other team in the NFL likely has no choice but to engage in a shootout with Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Henry, 6-foot-3, 247 pounds of muscle, just may give the Titans a chance to dictate the terms, to win their way.
Like Mahomes, he has the rare ability to make something that’s incredibly difficult look incredibly easy. Just watch this stiff-arm of defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth. Taylor Stallworth is not a household name but here’s what Taylor Stallworth is: a 6-foot-2, 305-pound adult. And Henry just flicks him away like a inconvenient crumb. It’s absurd. Keep watching this clip linked above and you’ll see Henry meet Darius Leonard, the “Maniac,” at the goal line and win. Then you’ll see DBs dive and whiff (helplessly and hilariously) on Henry in the open field.
Not that you can blame those DBs. About a zillion terrible things sound more enjoyable than trying to tackle Derrick Henry.
A sneaky-great game next week? The 8-3 Titans hosting the 8-3 Browns. Both teams prefer to bludgeon defenses on the ground. There will be blood.
What in the hell happened to the Raiders? Losing 43-6 to the Falcons? Didn’t this team beat Kansas City once and nearly beat them again? Not sure where to begin with Jon Gruden’s group but it’s about time we gave Raheem Morris props. If Todd Gurley takes a knee at the 1-yard-line against the Lions, the Falcons would be 5-1 under their interim head coach. Owner Arthur Blank is obviously looking for a new GM, too, but it’s impossible to ignore how hard this team’s fighting week in and week out for Morris. That means something.
Bills/Chargers was ugly. The Bills turned it over on three straight possessions in the fourth quarter and still found a way to win. Josh Allen wasn’t great but they’ve got to be pleased with how they limited the big play on defense. That’s a trend you want this time of year. Outside of a meaningless 55-yard heave at the end of the game, Chargers rookie Justin Herbert didn’t complete one pass longer than 15 yards on 51 attempts. That’s impressive.
Speaking of the Bills, here is our two-parter on Josh Allen in case you missed it. I greatly appreciate everyone’s feedback. One question I received a few times was which quarterbacks Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner did like outside of Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady. I did ask him that same question at one point. Here’s his answer:
“The other guy is Joe Burrow. What he’s done from a processing standpoint here in his first year has been extremely impressive. He’s got the ability to simplify the game very quickly with his eyes on the right guy and understand it’s a ‘high/low’ on this guy. Or, I’ve got outside coverage so I’m reading ‘inside/out’ on that guy. Or, I’m reading this safety and I’m going… and he does that. I’d say he’s top 5 in the league this year at his ability to do that part of the game.
“He’s a young guy who doesn’t have the top side physically although he’s made more plays physically with his arm than I thought he could. Kind of off-balance. Weird throws. Taking chances with the ball where you say, ‘No way. Never.’ And then he makes it and I go, ‘OK, is this guy more talented with his arm than I thought?’ So, he’s made more of those plays. But in terms of processing information, I would put him top 5 in the league at this point in his rookie year.”
So, man, what a bummer that his season was cut short with that torn ACL and MCL. It was a brutal injury but, apparently, Burrow already thinks through the game on an elite level. That gives him a great shot at bouncing back.
Matt Patricia is done in Detroit and there will be more firings by season’s end, of course. It all makes you think. How does anybody really know who’s responsible for what? Belichick’s assistants have been notoriously bad head coaches. We all thought Matt Nagy was something special under Andy Reid and now, three years in as Chicago’s head coach, he could be gone soon. I remember Mike McCarthy, in Green Bay, pushing hard for Ben McAdoo to get a head-coaching opportunity. He did. It did not go well. Hiring a head coach really is an inexact science. Everyone’s looking for the next Belichick or the next Andy Reid when, maybe, the best option is to just swing for the fences on something completely different. It wasn’t too long ago that people thought the Rams were a little nutty for hiring a 30-year-old (Sean McVay) and the Cardinals were foolish for hiring Kingsbury. Both, however, are innovators who think big.
Give Kendall Hinton a raise. Then, give him another raise. He didn’t ask for this. What a mess in Denver.
The Packers roll along. Feels like ages ago that everyone was upset the team did not add another offensive weapon in the off-season. They have more than enough on offense to beat anybody in the NFC — a top-3 WR, a top-5 RB, the No. 1 left tackle. And this doesn’t need to be a team that spreads defenses out with three, four, five receivers at a time like it did in 2011. Matt LaFleur wants to run the ball and they sure ran all over the Bears in a 41-25 win. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for 163 yards on 34 attempts.
Can anybody out there make any sense of the NFC West?
Does anybody care about the NFC East?
That’s all for now. We’ll be back with a story Wednesday AM. Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing, thanks for telling a friend about Go Long.