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The Mahoment Is Here

The Broncos stymied the Chiefs’ vaunted offense for much of Monday—and then Patrick Mahomes II delivered when it mattered most

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Patrick Mahomes II, down three points with less than three minutes to go on the road against the division rival Broncos and a crowd screaming so loudly that the ESPN cameras were visibly shaking, faced a second-and-30. But that wasn’t the strange part—the strange part was that everyone watching knew Mahomes would get the first down.

Mahomes finished with 28 completions on 45 attempts for 304 yards, one passing touchdown, one rushing touchdown, one sack, and no turnovers as he led the Chiefs to a narrow 27-23 win over Denver to keep his team undefeated. He finished with 192 passing yards on throws outside the pocket alone—the highest figure in the past 10 years, according to the broadcast. On a night when Kansas City consistently dug itself into holes, its sophomore signal-caller kept digging them back out—including on the stunning final drive that showed the full range of his abilities.

Toward the beginning of that possession, on third-and-5 with the game on the line, Mahomes switched the ball into his left (non-throwing) hand while running for his life from Von Miller and flipped a (not as awkward as it should have been) pass to Tyreek Hill for a first down.

One grounding penalty and one holding penalty after that play, the Chiefs faced second-and-30. Mahomes dropped back, rolled right, once again sprinted away from Miller, and roped a 23-yard completion to receiver Demarcus Robinson to cut the down and distance to third-and-7. On the next play, Mahomes hit Demetrius Harris for 35 yards to put the Chiefs at the Denver 11-yard line. Two plays later, Kareem Hunt found the end zone for the Chiefs’ game-winning score.

The most impressive part of Mahomes’s game is how easy he makes the hardest things look. Mahomes’s baseball background is already approaching “Did you know Jimmy Graham played basketball?” levels of obnoxiousness, but with Mahomes the link is undeniable. Wipe away the window dressing, and he resembles Manny Machado throwing to first base.

The Broncos put up a serious fight on Monday, and for most of the game, Mahomes seemed like the only Chief up to the task. Denver defensive coordinator Joe Woods called blitzes and moved defenders around before the snap to confuse Kansas City’s blockers. While Mahomes’s offensive line allowed only one sack, he faced pressure throughout the night. Von Miller and Bradley Chubb (and the crowd noise) created two false starts, two holding penalties, and one illegal use of the hands, good for half of Kansas City’s 10 combined penalties for 93 yards. Denver’s seasoned secondary disrupted the Chiefs’ timing and held tight end Travis Kelce catchless in the first half. Meanwhile, the defense forced a previously unthinkable four Kansas City punts, two three-and-outs, and a few moments where the Chiefs’ vaunted pre-snap motions looked a bit silly.

Between Denver’s defense and the departure of wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who left the game with a hamstring injury in the second quarter, the Chiefs were thrown off their game and forced to play left-handed. That didn’t matter for Mahomes, who rallied to lead two fourth-quarter touchdown drives and give Kansas City the late lead.

Yet Kansas City’s defense came this close to ruining Mahomes’s first signature moment. Kansas City’s tackling, which was atrocious through three weeks, remained miserable on Monday. On a third-and-1 in the second quarter, Broncos running back Royce Freeman tossed aside four uninspired tackle attempts to score a 14-yard touchdown—even though Kansas City could have tackled him at the 20 (and the 17, and the 7, and the 5 …).

That effort is how the Chiefs surrendered 159 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 22 carries (7.2 yards per attempt). Kansas City forced a three-and-out when they needed a stop late to get the ball back on Denver’s penultimate drive but nearly lost the game on Denver’s final possession. Facing fourth-and-11 from his own 24-yard line with a minute to go and down four points, Minneapolis Miracle man Case Keenum found Emmanuel Sanders for 12 yards. One play later, he hit tight end Jeff Heuerman for a 36-yard reception that put the Broncos on the cusp of the red zone. After nearly getting intercepted by cornerback Kendall Fuller on second down, Keenum saw Demaryius Thomas streaking past a cornerback and safety along the sideline on third-and-10. With a perfectly clean pocket, he let the ball rip.

He missed. The ball would have unquestionably been a touchdown.

The play would have created an excuse for us to see Mahomes throw a 75-yard Hail Mary attempt and test Aaron Rodgers’s supremacy over the long ball domain. Instead, the Broncos turned the ball over on downs after a failed (but inspired) hook-and-ladder attempt. The Chiefs escaped with the win, confirming the two things we suspected: The defense is the Achilles’ heel of this team, especially as long as safety Eric Berry is out with a heel injury. And while the offense can be disrupted, both along the line and with physicality in the secondary, the most important question—can Mahomes deliver when it matters?—was answered emphatically on Monday night: