KANSAS CITY — Patrick Mahomes walked out of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum two weeks ago with his jersey stained, his pride no doubt wounded and an uncharacteristic five turnovers blighting his box score.
The only thing he stewed about during the Kansas City Chiefs’ bye week was the final score.
The three interceptions he’d tossed in the 54-51 loss to the Rams, and the two fumbles he lost trying to escape trouble, were merely learning opportunities. Mahomes went to work on the Chiefs’ bye week dissecting what went wrong, where he can improve and how he can avoid making the same mistakes.
“Some of those came in crucial moments, knowing when and not to take a chance,” he said. “But every experience, bad and good, you have to take the positive from. We had a lot of good things happen in that game, but at the same time you have to find a way to win.”
Spoken like a seasoned veteran rather than a first-year starter.
There were indeed plenty of good things for Mahomes to think about. He set career highs with 33 completions and 478 yards passing, and he matched a career high with six touchdown passes, all while the Chiefs rallied time and again in a back-and-forth game that came down to the wire.
Yet it was the turnovers that were the first topic tossed at Mahomes when he returned to work.
The big knock on him coming out of Texas Tech — besides the fact he was a product of the much-maligned “Air Raid” system — was he was prone to turnovers.
And while it was a largely unfounded knock, considering Mahomes never threw all that many interceptions with the Red Raiders, it continued to follow him through his rookie season and right into his first training camp as starter.
Mahomes answered those critics with a turnover-free opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.
He has continued to value possessions all season, throwing only 10 interceptions total through the first 11 weeks, even though Mahomes has a gunslinger reputation. He also has lost seven fumbles, and that may ultimately be where experience will make the biggest difference.
Mahomes is still learning how to feel the pressure of an NFL pass rush, escape the pocket when the time comes and make sure two hands are on the football when somebody takes a slap at it.
“Those guys made great plays. They swatted directly on the ball both times,” Mahomes said, thinking back to his two fumbles against the Rams. “You have to be secure with the ball. Two hands on the ball, even when I’m trying to break the pocket.”
Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy made it clear Thursday turnovers are a team problem, not one Mahomes must shoulder alone. Wide receivers can do a better job with route-running and fighting for the ball while the offensive line can provide better protection.
“One thing that we’ve learned together as a unit,” Bieniemy said, “is that if we eliminate the self-inflicted wounds we’ll have a chance.”
Besides, even the best quarterbacks can have turnover troubles.
The Patriots’ Tom Brady has six games with four interceptions during a career that will likely land him in the Hall of Fame. Ben Roethlisberger once tossed five for Pittsburgh against Jacksonville.
And the player to whom Mahomes is constantly compared, Brett Favre, had a game with three fumbles and two picks and concluded his career with an NFL-record 336 interceptions.
Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson, whose Chiefs record for touchdown throws in a season Mahomes has already shattered, once fumbled seven times in a game against the Chargers.
The difference in some of those dismal days by some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks? They didn’t also throw for nearly 500 yards with six touchdown passes in a game that they nearly won.
“You don’t hide it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, when asked how he approached the performance by his young quarterback. “You go back and evaluate it. How did those things happen and how do you fix them so they don’t happen again? We’ve done that. The one thing about Pat is he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. That’s been his M.O. here. I’m not worried about that.
“I want him to keep firing,” Reid said. “Learn from his mistakes but keep firing.”
Notes: DL Chris Jones was voted AFC defensive player of the month. He has nine sacks total, and at least one in each of the past seven games. WR Sammy Watkins (foot) remained out of practice Thursday. Safety Eric Berry (heel) and C Mitch Morse (concussion) continued to work on a limited basis.