You certainly have seen the play by now—you would have had to go out of your way to avoid seeing it. It was late in the first half of Sunday’s Chiefs-Ravens game, a second-and-1. Patrick Mahomes zigged to the left, then zagged back to the right, evading the rush as he scanned the field. Then, with his head pointed squarely downfield, he slung the ball across his body, firing it diagonally across the hash marks and painted field numbers to his left. Receiver Demarcus Robinson, crossing the field, made the catch at a spot where Mahomes had given zero outward indication he was going to throw.
“Look at the magic of the quarterback,” Tony Romo said on the CBS broadcast while watching the replay of the 17-yard pass to Robinson. “Moving around, dancing, then throws it—like, almost, no look. That’s incredible.”
Mahomes had a bunch of these rabbit-out-of-his-hat moments on Sunday in a performance that served as a sizzle reel for his MVP candidacy. The fourth-and-9 conversion to Tyreek Hill on which it looked like the play, and the game, was all but over. The fourth-and-3 TD pass to Damien Williams to send the game into OT, where the Chiefs would win. None of these plays, or outcomes, seem like they’d be possible without Mahomes.
But perhaps the most surprising part of Mahomes’s no-look pass is that it’s not surprising whatsoever to anyone who’s been around him the last few years.
“He does all those no-look things,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said during a conversation in October, several weeks before this latest highlight reel play. “Those are the things that people go, Whoa. He did it in college and then you go, ‘Well, that’s college. We’ll see if he can do it here.’ It feels a little bigger [in the NFL] because of the [narrower] hash marks. And then he did it here, in practice; he did it in a game at Denver; and now you just think he can do it.”
Mahomes’s first no-look pass in the NFL indeed came last season, in that Week 17 start in Denver when the Chiefs were already locked into their seeding and were resting Alex Smith. On a first-and-10, Mahomes saw a defender closing in and spotted his receiver crossing the field out of the corner of his eye. He knew that if he kept looking straight downfield, a linebacker in zone coverage would come off enough for him to make a throw to Albert Wilson on the boundary. And that’s exactly what happened. Think about the fact that Mahomes made this gutsy play in his first NFL start.
“It’s not like I mean to throw no-look passes,” Mahomes said, ever so nonchalantly, in a conversation about this play in April. “I think it kind of happens out of instinct. As I do it, I’m like, Dang, I didn’t even mean to do that.”
But even that throw wasn’t really a surprise to the Chiefs, because of what they’d seen in practice all last year. Mahomes ran the scout-team offense in 2017, meaning that he’d practice against the Chiefs’ first-team defense. Brad Childress, the Chiefs’ assistant head coach last season, remembers the rookie repeatedly frustrating one veteran Chiefs defender with his chicanery on a specific flat-slant concept they’d often practice near the goal line.
“Pat was good enough to look in the flat and throw the slant,” Childress recalls. “And Justin Houston, his head used to whip-snap to the flat, and then he’d see the ball completed behind him and look back at Pat. And Pat’s kind of standing back there chuckling, and he comes back to Andy chuckling, and Coach has got the stone face. He’s not giving him anything; he didn’t want [Mahomes] to be feeling too good about himself. I watched that every day in practice and actually used to go in and flip on the defensive tape and say, ‘Wait, you gotta look at this throw that Pat made against our defense here. Look at this one.’ Yeah, it was crazy.”
Mahomes credits his time at Texas Tech for normalizing this unique talent. As the QB described it earlier this year, the no-look throws started out “as a joke” between him and his college back-up, Nic Shimonek. They’d done it in practice drills with head coach Kliff Kingsbury looking on, and then graduated to the live periods of practice, and then Mahomes tried it in a college game. And now, as if it’s no big jump at all, he’s doing it in the NFL.
“It's a thing now where it's not necessarily like I try to do it,” Mahomes continued, in that conversation earlier this year. “It just kind of happens whenever I think I can get someone open by looking [the defender] off with my eyes. It definitely helps whenever you have played basketball in your career. When you do those no-look passes in basketball, it translates a little bit to whenever you are kind of off scrambling and you just kind of look [the defender] off a little bit and throw it to [the receiver].”
This is perhaps the greatest marvel of Mahomes: The way in which he makes the improbable seem probable. He’s started just 14 games in the NFL, but his play has sparked discussions of whether he’s already established as one of the most talented QBs of all time. Just ask those who have coached him. Reid had one reference point for those no-look passes Mahomes used to delude defenders as a scout-team quarterback last year, and it was the Hall of Famer he coached in Green Bay.
Says Childress, “The only guy I ever saw do it this way, besides Pat, was Brett Favre.”
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