Poised Mahomes and a Suddenly Super Defense Make Chiefs the Team to Beat

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 13, 2019

Patrick Mahomes was on his game in the Chiefs' playoff opener, a 31-13 defeat of the Colts.
Patrick Mahomes was on his game in the Chiefs' playoff opener, a 31-13 defeat of the Colts.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We are used to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes doing the impossible. We see the no-look passes. The sidearm throws. The deep bombs. The dazzling runs. All of the things that make us bulge our eyes and spit out our drinks.

Yet what we saw Mahomes do against the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round Saturday was something more spectacular, and something that will make him even scarier: He played like a seasoned, composed playoff veteran.

On top of that, we saw a Kansas City defense—the unit that was supposed to keep the Chiefs out of the Super Bowl—transform into a monster that stuffed the Colts, holding them to 126 total yards through three quarters and zero first downs until late in the first half. 

Kansas City played a total game against Indianapolis, winning totally at Arrowhead Stadium 31-13. If you didn't believe in the Chiefs before or thought the defense was too soft or maybe the 23-year-old Mahomes was too young, it's time to change your mind.

The Chiefs were magical, and for the first time all year, it wasn't just Mahomes who waved the wand. There's a reason the Chiefs won their first home playoff game since 1993, ending a string of six postseason losses in Kansas City: This looked like the most well-rounded squad in franchise history. Previous Kansas City playoff teams had great offenses or great defenses but rarely both.

"They outplayed us; they outcoached us," said Colts coach Frank Reich at his postgame press conference. He noted it was the rare outing where his team couldn't get its offense going: "It's beyond me how we've been so good early in the game, generally the whole year. I just credit their defense."

The Texas Tech product went 27-of-41 for 278 yards with one rushing score, and this was the perfect pocket-passing Mahomes. This was the precise Mahomes. The patient Mahomes. The Mahomes with the timing of Tom Brady and awareness of Russell Wilson.

Oh, there were a few plays that featured highlight-reel Mahomes. He threw one third-quarter pass sidearm for a 15-yard gain to Travis Kelce. It was the kind of sick throw that Mahomes has come to make appear almost routine.

But mostly, Mahomes looked like he's played in 20 playoff games—calm, solid and making it seem easy but in a different way.

You know what this means, don't you?

If Mahomes keeps playing with this kind of poise, he will be even more dangerous, and the Chiefs will be almost impossible to beat.

It's not that Mahomes hasn't been good from the pocket this season. Of course he has. It's different, however, doing it while the pressure of the playoffs weighs on you like extra gravity and Andrew Luck stands on the other sideline.

Mahomes' assured play seemed to set the table for the rest of the Chiefs' day. That defense, normally as solid as low-sodium chicken broth, stymied the Colts. With Mahomes leading a steady, pulsating offense, the defense could just tee off on Luck.

If you want to understand why coach Andy Reid sent Alex Smith packing in favor of Mahomes, it was for Saturday and beyond. Mahomes isn't just an explosive device. He's a multifaceted force who can beat you any number of ways. But mostly, the way he beat the Colts featured the best Mahomes.

On one play—a screen pass to Kelce in the second quarter—Mahomes used his eyes to fool the entire secondary. He looked right, drawing the safety, and then threw back to Kelce. It was Aaron Rodgers-like.

The Colts defense also looked somewhat shocked. It's almost as if teams spend so much time preparing for the frenetic Mahomes, they seem almost stunned to see him do a Dan Marino impression.

Though watching a pocket-savvy Mahomes was fascinating, so was seeing that Kansas City defense. Indianapolis, one of the best third-down conversion teams in the league, was 0-of-9 in this game.

Indianapolis didn't score its first offensive touchdown until there was 5:31 left in the contest.

The Chiefs defense held the Colts to fewer than 100 yards rushing and limited star receiver T.Y. Hilton to four catches (one for that score). The Chiefs pressured Luck all game and essentially took him out of the contest early.

Could that once-notoriously bad defense re-emerge in the AFC title game? It's possible, but it seems like the Chiefs have fixed a season-long problem.

We need to make this point crystal clear: If Mahomes keeps playing like this, and that defense plays like that, no one will beat this team.

Not Reid's historically bad clock management.

Not Brady. Not Philip Rivers.

Not the Cowboys. Not the Rams. Not the '85 Bears.

No team. If they stay this well-rounded—if that defense has truly transformed—they are unbeatable.

Now, the Chiefs are Mahomes and a defense.

It's Superman and the Hulk joining forces.

Watch out.

         

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter:@mikefreemanNFL

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