Just a yard away from the end zone at the StubHub Center, Patrick Mahomes faked a handoff to Kareem Hunt early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 38-28 win.
Instead of letting the running back punch it in, Mahomes kept the ball and sprinted right toward the goal line.
As the Chargers defense converged on him, the quarterback started to slide feet-first. But Mahomes seemed to change his mind mid-slide, and instead, he tucked and somersaulted the rest of the way down, landing just shy of the end zone with Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward on top of him.
It was hardly the kind of contact Chiefs coach Andy Reid wants his starting quarterback absorbing on a weekly basis.
Mahomes won AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his four-touchdown performance in Week 1 but his sliding skills — or lack thereof — show he still has plenty to work on.
“I think just kind of that first game, the juices were flowing,” Mahomes said Wednesday. “I was kind of just running and I wasn’t getting down early as I should have. My dad says I’m the worst sliding baseball player he’s ever met. So it’s something where I need to get down, just in general.”
Mahomes’ dad would know. The elder Patrick Mahomes, better known as Pat, played professional baseball from 1992 to 2003. And for a while, it seemed like his son would follow in his footsteps.
But the once-standout pitcher spurned a pro baseball career for football after two seasons at Texas Tech. Now, the only sliding he’s doing is on the football field. In his debut as QB1, the slides left plenty to be desired.
“Especially coming from a baseball background, he needs to get down a little sooner,” Reid said with a wry chuckle. “That second baseman was coming on him hard a couple times. He’s got to get down.”
Mahomes ran the ball six times Sunday afternoon. Two of those runs went for seven and eight yards, respectively, and ended in solid feet-first slides. Three of them ended with contact and an awkward variation of a slide.
In the third quarter, Mahomes tried to score from four yards out. Rather than slide down as the Chargers players converged on him, the quarterback twisted his body and absorbed a major hit by defensive tackle Justin Jones from a near-upright position.
As more Chargers players piled on top of Mahomes, the ball popped loose and was recovered by the defense. The play was negated thanks to a facemask call against the Chargers, but the hit hurt just the same.
“I was kind of running around, thinking I can do a little more than I can with my speed,” Mahomes said. “There’s not a lot of it. I just probably need to get down a little bit earlier.”
Though Mahomes had a couple awkward dives against the Chargers, not all were the result of an adrenaline rush.
Facing third-and-2 on the Chiefs’ first drive, Mahomes dropped back and looked for his receivers. When none appeared and a lane opened up, Mahomes pulled the ball down and ran forward. Rather than sliding, he crouched and spun away from safety Jahleel Addae.
Addae tackled Mahomes on his side and brought the quarterback down, but not before Mahomes picked up the first down.
By staying on his feet, Mahomes earned an extra yard that he might not have gained with the NFL’s new slide rule emphasis.
According to the rule, a head-first dive will also be considered the same as a feet-first dive, meaning a quarterback can give himself up by initiating either type of dive. The ball will be spotted where the quarterback first makes contact with the ground when initiating a dive.
“That’s really a good job by him,” offensive lineman Mitch Schwartz. “He got three yards on that third-and-2 and got the first down. Potentially if he does a face-first dive that quarterbacks used to do throughout the league, maybe it’s fourth-and-1 and he doesn’t get the first down. I think that’s a good decision by him.”
Mahomes will have to make plenty more of those decisions against the Steelers this weekend, and it could come at a much more painful cost. Pittsburgh is known for its physicality, and the Chiefs will be going up against AFC defensive player of the week TJ Watt.
“This crew here (the Steelers), they come after you a little bit that way,” Reid said. “But it’s good for him to see it and feel it. That’s something you don’t necessarily get in the preseason. You don’t get in practice, for sure. It was good for him to get it and just learn that you’ve got to get down a little quicker.”