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Chiefs QB Mahomes layered his preparation for playoffs

By Sam McDowell
The Kansas City Star/TNS
Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones pressures Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

The Chiefs were away from the practice facility for a couple of days last week, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes wanted to form an early start on postseason preparation. He ran into a problem. The Chiefs wouldn’t know their opponent until the weekend was complete, four possible teams still in the mix.

His solution?

Study them all.

Days before the AFC Wild Card round, Mahomes popped in the film of the four - the Browns, Colts, Titans and Ravens - and watched a handful games of each. And he took notes. Literally. In a notebook.

So late Sunday night, as it became clear the Chiefs would face the Browns in the AFC Divisional Round (2:05 p.m. Sunday), Mahomes tossed aside three notebooks and preserved one.

“Just trying to get a general feel of what the defense is presenting and what the offenses were doing to try to attack them from different teams, different offenses,” Mahomes said. “So I had a day’s worth of film on the Browns, so whenever we found that out, I was able to look back at that, look at my notes and try to see how it presents to us.”

The exercise has its obvious benefits, but some of its motivation was less obvious. Sure, he wanted to be a couple steps ahead when players began on-field work for the Browns this week.

But he also wanted to layer some extra work in comparison to last year’s preparation - because while the Chiefs won the Super Bowl last season, the march there didn’t start smoothly. After a first-round playoff bye, they trailed the Texans by 24 points less than 20 minutes into the game.

Undoubtedly, that would be the primary storyline in Kansas City had the comeback not followed: What are the Chiefs doing differently to ensure they start faster? Well, here’s an example. There are others, too.

“I stayed on top of everything. I practiced as much as I could practice, getting reps in, making sure I get back to the fundamentals of the footwork and stuff like that, and then continue to work out and prepare myself,” Mahomes said. “We didn’t start the way we wanted to last year when we came off the bye, so I wanted to make sure we do a better job of starting a little bit faster and try not to put ourselves in that deficit.”

Coupled with the note-taking, of course.

In that effort, he picked out games based on opponents that run similar offense to the Chiefs. Or similar formations, at least. Even if they don’t run the same plays out of those formations, he still wanted to see how the Cleveland, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Tennessee defenses might respond.

“You can tell that he’s been doing his homework for the past week and a half,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “(He understands) what every single team that we could possibly face is doing defensively. And then sure enough, as soon as we found out on Sunday who we were playing, he was right there and had a whole notebook ready for the Cleveland Browns. I think now we’re in the process of figuring out the game plan. What Pat does best is communicate exactly what he’s seeing and how he feels we need to attack the defense.”

There will be adjustments to make during the game - on the fly - but he has a baseline. It’s not too dissimilar from a regular season game preparation, with the very notable exception that he didn’t feel like waiting to see who the Chiefs might play.

A usual game week doesn’t result with three notebooks in the trash can, though if the Ravens and Chiefs both advance, he could already have an early start on next week.

“I think you just take your intensity up a level (in the playoffs),” Mahomes said. “It’s still the same preparation (but) maybe try to dive deeper into the film study, dive deeper into the breakdowns an the different ways you can go out there and have success against a defense. Just take it to another level would be the biggest thing.”