Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes spoke for seven and a half minutes Wednesday, spread across 15 sets of media questions and his answers.
He was accommodating and expansive for the most part, but there was one exception. In response to an inquiry late in the conversation, he provided a terse, six-second reply, more than twice as short as any other.
The relevant backdrop: Ahead of Sunday Night Football’s Kansas City-Tampa Bay matchup, the first since the two met in a Super Bowl two seasons ago, Buccaneers pass rusher Shaquil Barrett mentioned that he didn’t see much of a difference in the Chiefs’ current offensive line and the one the Buccs shredded in that championship game. A coming-out party would be planned for Sunday, he predicted.
What did Mahomes think of that?
In full: “I trust those five guys we have out there. I feel like we have one of the best offensive lines in the league, and we’ll go in there with that mindset.”
A few of Mahomes’ responses stretched nearly half a minute on this day. But let’s stick with his briefest answer, because it’s the most revealing.
In the past couple of seasons, Mahomes has quite obviously been motivated by some of the outside noise, whether it comes from the majority, the vocal minority or just one voice. Whether it’s aimed at him or aimed at teammates. He doesn’t say that out loud, though, instead leaving the rest of us to search for clues.
He just gave us one.
It requires a bit of reading between the lines, a bit of sitting through a few years of these news conferences and just a bit of common sense. But he barely blinked when asked about Barrett’s comments. Kept his response as short as possible and to the point. Direct and careful with his words.
He didn’t like what he heard, and he’s probably not only heard it but also seen it by now. The video evidence is actually more daring, and, I must say, more entertaining. Barrett actually opens by laughing out loud at the topic, and he smirks at times during his reply.
“I really don’t think it’s too much of a difference,” he said, after the laugh, when asked to compare this year’s Chiefs offensive line with the 2020 group. “We have a lot of favorable matchups. I think we have an opportunity to really dominate the game. I just think, yeah, we got an opportunity to really impose our will as pass rushers, as edge rushers this game. And we could really have like a coming-out party.”
Earlier this week, I pondered whether a game that took place nearly 20 months ago would have much relevance for one taking place Sunday. That can an eternity in football time. The personnel has largely changed — and apparently someone needs to alert Barrett that for the Chiefs, much of that change has come within the exact position group he classified as pretty much the same. Heck, the Buccs have switched head coaches since.
Is that game even worth re-visiting?
It is now.
If Mahomes couldn’t find a reason to use that Super Bowl humiliation as some sort of fuel in Tampa Bay, Barrett just handed him one.
Mahomes’ six-second reply, in that case, should have been limited to just two words:
Barrett made an interesting decision this week, and by interesting, I mean ill-advised — one that should have prompted someone behind his Zoom camera to wave their arms to gather his attention and then imitate a Jonah Hill GIF suggesting, Nah, man, let’s go ahead and wrap this up.
It’s not a secret that Mahomes has pounced on disrespect in the past. You’ve seen him play often enough to recall him counting on his fingers not once but twice to remind us all of those instances, only to conveniently forget about them in postgame news conferences.
The stories are fun. But there are numbers beneath them. Mahomes has lost 17 games in his career, playoffs included. One nine occasions, he’s had the opportunity to face a team in a rematch within the next two seasons, when the rosters have some carryover.
He’s 7-2 in those rematches, and while that winning percentage is basically in line with his career, there’s an important note here: both losses came in overtime. So among the nine times he’s been offered a rematch with a team that had recently beaten him, none of the nine was able to beat him again in regulation. He didn’t even possess the ball in one of those two overtimes.
As a reminder, we’re generally talking about games against the upper echelon of the league. These are teams good enough to beat the Chiefs in the Mahomes Era. There are no gimmes on this rematch slate.
And yet the record is there. And the personal numbers, too. He throws touchdowns at a higher rate in the rematches than ordinary regular-season games. Throws for more yardage on average. Has a better completion percentage.
And well, in the off-chance that guy wasn’t the one traveling to Tampa Bay this weekend — if 20 months had expired that motivation — Barrett provided him a plane ticket.
Not just him, either.
While Barrett might see some similarities in the units protecting Mahomes, his eyes are deceiving him. Or perhaps he’s only studied the tape from the past two weeks. The Chiefs’ offensive line improved more than any other in 2021, an overhaul prompted by that Super Bowl game he’s referencing. Some models ranked the Chiefs as the best offensive line in football to open this season.
Four of the five starting offensive linemen Sunday weren’t in Kansas City when that Super Bowl took place. Andrew Wylie is the lone remaining player from the makeover.
Wonder what he thinks of all this, right?
“He does that a lot. He talks a lot,” Wylie said. “So I’m not surprised. We’re going to come out there with something to prove. A little chip on our shoulder this week. That’s all I got to say.”
But that Super Bowl from two years ago, it matters this week?
“For sure,” Wylie said. “We’re showing up Sunday with a chip on our shoulder.”
As of Wednesday, if it didn’t already, that includes the quarterback.