Patrick Mahomes on the AFC Championship Game and his ‘worst’ football

Although the Kansas City Chiefs had a 21-3 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals in last January’s AFC championship game, they watched that lead slip and watched the Bengals represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVI.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is still grappling with the wounds of the collapse and recently called that game his “worst playoff football”:

In the second half that I played, I didn’t play really good football at all. Probably my worst playoff football I’ve ever played was the second half of the game. So I’m just trying to use that as a learning thing, that whenever I’m struggling or a team is struggling, I just find a way to make positive plays because when you have that lead, you don’t want to lose that lead .

As is well documented, a change in defensive strategy in the second half of that game helped propel Cincinnati’s comeback. In the second half, the Bengals relied on more drop-eight coverage, and these worked to frustrate Mahomes and eliminate big plays from Kansas City’s offense. As noted by Next Gen State after the game:

Part of the allure of Drop Eight coverage? How they manage to frustrate and make quarterbacks impatient. Settling for checkdown after checkdown or snap after snap that the defense gives you can have this effect, especially when a QB is slipping a lead. They get impatient and keep the football in their pockets longer to try to create an explosive game.

Mahomes recently found that out himself. “We played such a great first half. Even though we didn’t get what we wanted in the second half, I have to get better at taking what’s there to try and get some points on the board, get away and get to the Super Bowl .

Perhaps the greatest example of this came at the end of regulation. As the Chiefs came close to repelling the comeback with a touchdown to eke out the win, Cincinnati delivered a sack of Mahomes to force a field goal attempt and overtime.

Use Drop Eight.

Faced with a 3rd goal from the 9 yards with less than 40 seconds left, the Chiefs are trying to throw out of this formation:

They isolate Tyreek Hill on the left and use Kelce as the center receiver for the trips formation on the right. Here is the route concept they choose:

Kansas City is trying to get everything on the left side, from Hill’s post-corner route to the three routes coming off the Trips side of the formation.

Reporting aside, it’s important to note what Sam Hubbard does in this piece:

Hubbard will spy on Mahomes, drop to about the five-yard line and mirror the quarterback in the pocket. Mahomes takes the snap and looks down the left side of the field first before coming to the three routes breaking in his direction from the right. But there’s nowhere to go with football… and Hubbard is lying in wait:

Then Mahomes tries to slide to the right to make an impact, and Hubbard, seeing a path open, decides to plunge:

Hubbard explodes downhill, crashing into the quarterback and ripping the football loose. Only a quick reaction from Mahomes prevents the Bengals from recapturing loose football and ending the game on the spot.

Mahomes is not without options in this game. He has a window to target Kelce underneath, right on the goal line. He could also play it very conservatively and aim his back from backcourt and hope he misses a defender. The Chiefs have two timeouts left at this point, so they can still stop the clock if the back is tackled into the bounds in preparation for the field goal attempt.

Instead, you’re seeing Mahomes’ impatience, something that was a problem for Kansas City’s offense earlier in the year. Mahomes tries to buy time with his legs to create the explosive game, and it ends in a sack and a near-lost fumble for the Chiefs.

As you know, the Bengals would win in overtime. Although the Chiefs started football, they turned the ball over on an interception from Mahomes.

With Cincinnati dropping eight in coverage on third-and-long and Mahomes trying to make the big play in coverage:

Given how the AFC Championship game went — especially in the second half and overtime — the Chiefs could expect a lot of drop-eight coverage throughout the 2022 season. If Mahomes learns from the second half, Kansas City will be a better team, and he’ll be a better quarterback long-term.

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