Gunslinger

Patrick Mahomes doinking the crossbar with behind-the-back and lefty throws is proof he’s still sheriff of the AFC West

August 09, 2022

Up 21-10 at halftime of last season’s AFC Championship game, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs juggernaut were cruising. Their second straight Super Bowl berth seemed like an inevitability, and back-to-back Lombardi lifts not just possible, but likely. But then Mahomes and co. came out in the second half and did something they had never done before:

They played not to lose.

The rest you already know. The Chiefs scores three total points in the second half, eventually falling to Joe Burrow’s Bengals in overtime. During the offseason, rumors about offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s actual football IQ (or lack thereof) began to swirl. Tyreek Hill took his talents to South Beach. The AFC West arms race escalated in the blink of an eye as the Raiders landed Davante Adams and Russell Wilson rode into Broncos Country. Suddenly the Chiefs dynasty—not to mention Mahomes’ reputation as the NFL’s most unimpeachably awesome talent—was in jeopardy.

On Tuesday, however, Mahomes laid those concerns to rest, putting on another ridiculous, Stephen Curry-esque exhibition at Chiefs training camp, pinging the crossbar with behind-the-back and lefty tosses from the 20 yard line like he was tying his shoes. If there was any lingering doubts as to the sheriff of the AFC West following a topsy turvy offseason, Mahomes erased them with the flick of his wrist.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, as the old saying goes. But it goes deeper than that. The Raiders’ underlying numbers last year, especially in close games and the turnover department, are unsustainable. They also face the toughest start in the NFL this season, and the fourth toughest schedule overall. The Broncos are in transition, with new ownership arriving on the cusp of a new season, and have already lost one of Russell Wilson’s top targets in Tim Patrick for the year. The Chargers should prove to be the biggest contenders for the AFC West crown this season, but Herbert’s rookie hype overshadowed some very pedestrian performances down the stretch last season (plus, you know, they’re the Chargers).

What does all this, plus Mahomes’ latest wizardry, add up to? In all likelihood, more of the same. Another AFC West title, another deep playoff run, and potentially even another Super Bowl shot. If not, well, it’s still fun to watch Mahomes work his magic.