Denver (TNS) — The first thing you hear as you walk into the locker room rocked by Patrick Mahomes is, well, the first thing you hear is not suitable for a family publication. The first thing you hear is anger. Raw anger. Loud anger. Bewildered anger.
The NFL requires teams to allow reporters into the locker room about 10 minutes after the last player is inside. Ten minutes is not nearly enough time for the Broncos to process a blown lead, at home, in a hazy flurry that included a left-handed throw by a right-handed quarterback, a first down after a second-and-30, a third-down conversion that never should have happened, and so much more in a 27-23 loss to the Chiefs here in front of a national television audience on Monday night.
“FUDGE,” one man yelled, only he didn’t say fudge.
“Two (expletive) plays, man,” another said. “(EXPLETIVE)!”
“We (expletive) lost this (expletive) game,” a voice yelled. “What the (expletive)?”
This is, for one night, the football hell the Chiefs have lived for most of the last four decades. The Broncos led by three at halftime, by seven at the start of the fourth quarter, and by 10 with 7 minutes left. They should have won.
The Broncos had won 65 straight times when leading by 10 or more in the fourth quarter. That was the longest active streak in the league. That streak is now dead.
“We felt like we outplayed this team,” Broncos linebacker Shane Ray said. “We felt like we out schemed this team. It came down to three plays at the end.”
Basically, it came down to this fact: the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, and the Broncos do not.
It was, actually, his least impressive game this season statistically — 28 of 45, 304 yards, one touchdown. But the experience was the most thrilling, particularly against this team and in this stadium. The tectonic shift is impossible to miss. For decades, the Broncos have beaten the Chiefs in games just like this, for no reason except the only one that mattered — they had John Elway and Peyton Manning at quarterback, and the Chiefs had, well, you don’t want to go through that list.
Mahomes broke the game. He broke it here, on the road in one of the NFL’s greatest atmospheres, against his team’s greatest rival, the one that has kicked dirt on the teams that came before him more than any other.
The Chiefs won because of Mahomes, the same way they’ve lost so many times because their quarterback did not double as a magician, and afterward Broncos defenders said the same things with the same head shakes that Chiefs players have been saying for a generation.
“We were ready,” safety Darian Stewart said.
“We just let them off the hook,” cornerback Chris Harris said.
“He threw a pass with his opposite hand?” linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. “No, I didn’t see that.”
Yes. About that. This is a thing that happened, and the scene is still fresh, so it’s unclear whether the most absurd part was the context or the act itself. Let’s start with the context.
Third and five, from the Chiefs’ own 45, against the best defense Mahomes has ever faced, with more people watching than at any moment in his life, down three points with 3 minutes and 14 seconds left and a pocket that broke immediately, completely, and irreversibly against him.
Because it’s not just that Ray and Von Miller came through unblocked. It’s that they did it from Mahomes’ right side, his preferred scramble side, forcing him to his left. He can still do it this way. He much prefers the other direction.
Mahomes had the ball for one second, tops, before he knew the play was wrecked. He took two little hops, saw his first read covered and then ran for the hills. Miller had to take the long way — around right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who was occupied with another blitzer — but he is among the most effective and feared pass rushers in the history of professional football.
He ran hard, and cut Mahomes’ angle.
“I was gaining ground on him,” Miller said. “I tried to get down there and clip the ankles.”
Mahomes’ scramble is 12 steps. Miller begins his dive around the 10th. He gets there, too. Wraps his right arm around Mahomes’ right cleat, then his left around the left. Damnedest thing, though. At almost the exact moment Miller begins his dive, Mahomes shifts the ball from his right hand — closest to the trailing rusher — to his left.
We are calling it a left handed throw, and that’s accurate, but perhaps not the best description. It’s more like a shot put, really, the ball going end over end out of his hand like a punt. Tyreek Hill had sprinted across the field, wide open. First down.
“I knew he was ready to throw it,” Miller said. “I didn’t know he threw it with his left hand.”
That wasn’t all. We were only beginning. Two snaps later, because nothing’s ever easy, the Chiefs have second down and 30. Again, the pocket is ruined, but this time the Broncos make the mistake of forcing Mahomes out to his right.
Mahomes threw for 192 yards outside of the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Info, the most of any quarterback in 10 years. He is too athletic, and too ambitious, to shut down, and that’s doubly true when he’s going to his right.
Anyway, the play. The hole in the pocket opens in Mahomes’ wheelhouse — between the right tackle blocking Miller high, and and the right guard blocking an interior linemen inside. Mahomes takes the space, but not to run — he wants to throw the whole time. He has developed an internal alarm that tells him how long he can evade defenders, in this case Miller and Derek Wolfe.
This is the scramble drill the Chiefs ran so incredibly last week, on that circular scramble and sidearm touchdown pass to Chris Conley. The scramble drill is now among the Chiefs’ most effective plays. The scramble drill is now a party.
Defensive backs can’t cover forever. Anything longer than 3 seconds is asking a lot. Mahomes throws it 5 seconds after the snap, and of course Demarcus Robinson had broken open along the sideline.
Once that happened, you could guess what was next. A long pass to Harris on a broken coverage, though that play shouldn’t have happened because the officials missed a delay of game, and if you live in Kansas City it’s hard to type those words and not blurt out the obvious:
Aren’t the Chiefs usually the team that loses in those situations?
The winning touchdown came on a short run, completing Mahomes’ first fourth quarter comeback. It inspired Kareem Hunt to look at his quarterback a little like a lovestruck teenager.
In the Chiefs’ locker room, they laughed. They watched the replay. They scrolled through texts.
Down the hall, on the other side of the busses, the Broncos cursed. They sighed. They tried to explain the feeling of winning a game in every way except the only one that mattered.
Yes, by the time you walk out of the Broncos locker room, the words you hear have changed, from anger to acceptance, from frustration to respect.
“Patrick Mahomes is a great quarterback,” Miller said.
“I had to go inside and get two IVs,” Harris said.
“Everybody should get used to seeing him make plays like that,” Ray said.
Back in Kansas City, it might still take a while to get used to this new reality. But it’s a process they’ve been waiting to start for decades.
Sam Mellinger is a columnist for The Kansas City Star/TNS.