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What went wrong in Mahomes’ ‘meh’ debut as Chiefs’ No. 1 quarterback

Patrick Mahomes says offense never really got going against Texans

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes on why the offense stalled in preseason loss
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Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes on why the offense stalled in preseason loss

The berserk anticipation of the Patrick Mahomes era started bubbling the instant the Chiefs gave up the No. 27 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, a 2017 third-round pick and their 2018 first-round selection for the talent they’re hinging their future on.

It’s been surging in incremental stages ever since: from last preseason to his December start at Denver to the trade of Alex Smith and, for that matter, in all the fuss this summer about his jorts and man-about-town routine and his pit bull and his self-styled mohawk haircut.

All in all, quite a buildup before his first game as the starting quarterback, which finally became a semi-reality on Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium as he assumed the role in the Chiefs’ preseason opener against Houston.

And quite a letdown with an anticlimactic performance on a night that ultimately will be remembered as merely another link in a series of gradual steps.

And most of all a night that should be thought of as one with the obligatory caveat that any resemblance to a real game is purely coincidental.

Whatever Mahomes and the Chiefs did Thursday was going to have that asterisk attached.

It’s just that this result was still a bummer for fans eager to usher in a dynamic new chapter, excited to shake up what has become a fine but stalled status quo under coach Andy Reid.

Meaningless as it might be, there was no evidence of that on Thursday.

As advertised, Mahomes played just the first quarter, completing a serviceable 5 of 7 passes for 33 yards.

“It’s a little bit of a tease,” said Mahomes, adding that as soon as he started to get in a rhythm it’s “next guy up” on a night the Chiefs played four quarterbacks.

Still, it seemed in contrast to the “see what you can get away with” mentality that Reid has said he wants Mahomes to play with and the “intestinal fortitude to go test it.”

Instead, what stood out in this was the vanilla nature of what Mahomes set out to do — whether it was by Reid’s design or Mahomes’ own decisions or necessitated by some porous line play.

His longest completion was his first, 14 yards to Travis Kelce, after Mahomes appeared to think better of going deep — which may have been both the right and preferred move.

That drive ended three plays later when he dumped off to Kareem Hunt for 4 yards on third and 6, which was less ambitious than Mahomes is supposed to be.

Albeit with some chicken-and-egg questions about the offensive line, his second series ended on an even emptier note.

After a couple of short passes moved the chains, Mahomes took a sack on first and 10 at the Chiefs’ 31 when he paused after stepping up in the pocket instead of uncorking to receiver Sammy Watkins, who was breaking on a post pattern, or Kelce open on a corner route.

It’s a matter of interpretation whether Mahomes might have been able to get the ball away in the split second he had as the pocket crumbled because of what Reid called a missed blocking assignment by tight end Demetrius Harris that might have cost them a touchdown.

“We goofed up the protection,” Reid said, adding that Mahomes saw Watkins and Kelce and was “trying to get to it, but he couldn’t get there.”

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid spoke about the first preseason game against the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium

Or as Mahomes put it, “I didn’t want to make a bad play worse, so I took the sack.”

Under pressure on the next play, Mahomes badly overthrew Kelce. And whatever was supposed to happen on a jumbled third and 15 (a screen?) just didn’t, ending with Mahomes using his left arm to flick the ball toward Hunt and avoid taking another sack.

That was that for Mahomes, symbolic of an inauspicious night for the Chiefs that included suspect defense … minus four starters.

Fret if you must, but all of it should be stowed in a vacuum. At least until the shadow-boxing is over and legitimate competition sets in when the Chiefs open the regular season in Los Angeles against the Chargers on Sept. 9.

Then you can feel free to panic if things look like this.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones takes time for sideline selfies for fans before the start of Thursday's August 9, 2018 preseason game against the Houston Texans at Kauffman Stadium.

In the meantime, Reid still is in the process of contouring the offense to the strengths of Mahomes, still figuring out personnel and, as ever in the preseason, bent on not showing much.

“In the preseason, you don’t want to show all your good plays and all your good stuff,” said Mahomes, adding that he took what the defense gave him. “Being the quarterback I am, I like to take shots downfield; I just didn’t get the opportunity.”

Patrick Mahomes talks about his first start as the Chiefs No. 1 quarterback

Moreover, it would be absurd to expect Mahomes to seamlessly play like a veteran from the start.

“Are there going to be growing pains and all that stuff that go on? Yeah, sure, he’s a young guy who’s learning the game,” Reid said when camp opened, later adding, “There’s going to be hiccups here and there, but you don’t want to stifle (him) at all.”

The only discernible twist on the story after this mini-sampler is that instead of needing to coax Mahomes to reel it in, Reid may need to encourage him to cut loose more.

Which shouldn’t take too much of a nudge for someone predisposed to that and simply is going to take some time to find the right balance.

But for one night, anyway, this went basically the opposite of what you might have expected even if it wasn’t unrelated:

Training camp and the preseason are about trial and error for Mahomes as he sets about in earnest to become who he actually will be on his own timeline — as opposed to however the hype might have supposed he would find himself.