Patrick Mahomes can’t throw the ball and catch the ball. Chiefs QB needs teammates to step up.

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The best throw of the night from Patrick Mahomes – especially when considering the circumstances – cut through the wet, chilly air at Arrowhead like a laser-guided missile. Man was it pretty. The football traveled more than 50 yards with some kind of purpose.  And it was right on time in more ways than one, with the Kansas City Chiefs needing a big play in the waning moments of the Super Bowl 57 rematch on Monday night.

Mahomes had glanced at his favorite target and saw that the Philadelphia Eagles had all-pro tight end Travis Kelce locked down with triple coverage. The scheme left Marquez Valdes-Scantling in man-to-man coverage and Mahomes saw that his receiver had won on the route. So, the NFL’s reigning MVP and Super Bowl MVP launched a dime as Valdes-Scantling streaked past his defender on a post route.  It was a perfect pass, seemingly destined to put the Chiefs back on top.

One problem: Valdes-Scantling dropped it just shy of the goal line.

The Chiefs certainly blew other opportunities as the resilient Eagles rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit. There were two red zone turnovers – an end zone interception by Mahomes and a fumble by Kelce. They were shut out in the second half for the third consecutive game. And on their final two snaps, Mahomes was flagged for intentional grounding as he desperately flung the football while Josh Sweat breathed on his neck and Justin Watson dropped a fourth-and-25 bullet over the middle that hit him in the chest.

Yet nothing defined the 21-17 setback like the drop by Valdes-Scantling – who was wearing gloves, by the way – as it illustrated what has ailed the Chiefs during this attempt to repeat as champs.  The Chiefs lead the NFL with 26 dropped passes, adding to the total on Monday night with a season-high five drops. Even the typically sure-handed Kelce contributed to the pattern against the Eagles with a muff as the unit dropped three passes on the final drive.

Kansas City? Lately, it has been more like Drop City.  “I have no regret,” Mahomes said of the big one that got away with just under two minutes on the clock. “They trip-teamed Travis, so I went to the guy that won downfield. We just didn’t come away with the ball. I could’ve probably thrown it a little bit shorter. He was that open.”

With that response, Mahomes demonstrated the class and leadership layered on top of the spectacular skill that endears him to Chiefs fans. As much as he could have, he didn’t throw his receiver under the bus. Instead, he pointed a finger at himself.  If only Mahomes could catch his passes, too.  Still, the fact that Valdes-Scantling, a sixth-  year veteran, was nowhere to be seen after the loss on Monday night – leaving teammates to address what happened – points to another problem: accountability.

Apparently, Valdes-Scantling opted to avoid speaking for himself. It was reminiscent of what happened following a Week 1 loss here against the Detroit Lions that was also stained by key drops. And after that game, Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore dodged the post-game questions.  Hey, it’s embarrassing to contribute to the team’s loss, especially on a nationally televised, prime-time stage. Yet it’s also professional to not leave it all on teammates to face the music.

Maybe it’s just part of the Chiefs culture to allow some players to slide.  In any event, if the Chiefs (7-3), fail in their bid for a repeat crown, the pattern of dropped passes – in addition to other miscues from the offense that might drive coach Andy Reid crazy, such as the rash of pre-snap penalties – has provided a clue of how it might go down.

It seems weird. In winning seven consecutive AFC West titles, it has been typical for Kansas City’s defense to progress during the course of the season, solidifying the team’s chances of making a legitimate Super Bowl run. This season, the Chiefs defense has been largely outstanding, yielding the second-fewest points in the league. Now, heading into a matchup against the Raiders in Las Vegas on Sunday, it’s the offense that is having to catch up.

“I don’t think it’s just me and the receivers,” said Mahomes, whose 177 passing yards on Monday night marked a season low. “Offensively, we’re just not where I’d want to be at this point in the season. And that’s everybody.  “It starts with me. I’ve got to make better throws at certain times. We have to continue to move the ball down the field and just be more consistent, thoroughly, throughout the game.”

Can they fix it? Reid has been around long enough to realize how issues can sometimes be corrected in a hurry, as he pointed out on Monday night.  Yet until proven otherwise, the struggles of the offense show the vulnerability. Mahomes pointed to the run-pass balance as a key, maintaining that the success of the unit in recent years has been linked to its ability to adapt to the opposing defenses.

The sudden trend of going blank after halftime also won’t cut it in a league where so many games go down to the wire and are decided by one score or less.  “We’ve got to be better in the second half,” Mahomes said. “We’ve got to find ways to finish games.”  It will also be interesting to see if more reliable options emerge in the passing game, while defenses overload to minimize Kelce. Philadelphia used that blueprint to limit Kelce to just 44 yards on seven catches, taking away explosive plays. Kelce wasn’t even targeted for a pass on Kansas City’s first three possessions on Monday night. And you can believe that Mahomes looked for his favorite target.

Mahomes maintains that his optimism hasn’t waned. Why not?  “I know how hard guys work,” he said.  Even so, the warning signs are established.  “They know I’m going to keep firing,” Mahomes added. “That’s just who I am. I’m going to fire it to the guy who’s open.”  That’s not the problem. Whether they will catch the fire is an entirely different matter.


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