CHICAGO — A half hour before the start of Sunday’s game between the Bears and the visiting Chiefs, a woman wearing a Chiefs winter pom-pom hat brandished a homemade cardboard sign over the railing along the visitor’s sideline.
It’s unclear whether Mitchell Trubisky saw the sign from the sideline, but we know that it was impossible for the Bears’ quarterback to avoid the weight and significance of the game (even though he’s trying to avoid TV these days). Trubisky, the first quarterback picked in the 2017 NFL draft, has not yet developed into what the Bears brass expected him to be, and now faces an uncertain future. On the opposite side of the field, Patrick Mahomes, the second quarterback picked that year at No. 10 overall, was named league MVP in his first season as starter and has quarterbacked the Chiefs to another division title this season.
This contest, pitting the two young quarterbacks against each other for the first time and making the stark contrast between them all the more obvious, played out just the way you would expect. Mahomes completed 23 of 33 attempts for 251 yards and two touchdowns, while Trubisky completed 18 of 34 attempts for 157 yards and no touchdowns. Thriving quarterback: 26, Regressing quarterback: 3.
After Mahomes threw his first touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce at the end of the second quarter (he ran 12 yards for the Chiefs first touchdown), he celebrated in an unusual fashion. As he ran to the sideline alone, Mahomes held out one finger, and then began counting on both hands, all the way up to ten. He continued running with both palms outstretched at his side.
Ten fingers, tenth pick?
NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth offered his interpretation of Mahomes’s gesture on the Sunday Night Football Broadcast. “Let me see, how many people were drafted before me?” said Collinsworth, getting inside the mind of Mahomes. “6, 7, 8, 9, 10. The tenth player picked, right, right. The Bears had a chance to get me. He’s not mean-spirited about anything but he’s competitive and he knows the Chicago Bears could have had him.”
In his post-game press conference, Mahomes down-played the significance of his finger-counting celebration, and said he didn’t plan it in advance. “Honestly, I was just out there having fun,” he said. “We had a big score before the half and I was just trying to enjoy it. ... I don't know if there was necessarily a meaning.”
But this is the first time he’s done this celebration, or at least the first time he’s been caught, and the timing of it taking place in Chicago is peculiar. When asked why he counted to 10 against the Bears at Soldier Field, of all games and places he could do it, Mahomes said, “I don’t know why a lot of things come out when I do celebrations, but I just try to go out there and enjoy it. And I know I can’t dance or anything like that, so I leave that to the receivers. I just do what I can do.”
Most of his teammates didn’t notice their quarterback counting on his fingers when he ran off the field after the score. They only found out after the game in the locker room, when reporters filled them in on Mahomes’s subtle dig at the teams who had passed him by (cough, cough, Chicago).
“I like QB1 showing a little bit of edge to him,” Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark says. “QB1 got some edge in him. I'm glad he showed it, he showed them that 10-piece tonight.”
Clark sees this celebration as proof of the strong confidence that makes Mahomes a unique leader. “He’s playing with championship swagger,” Clark says. “He’s making some plays I can't believe he can make. He is just having fun out there. 15 doing what he wants and he is going to keep doing what he wants. 15 [is] dangerous. I wouldn't want to be on the opposite team.”
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz says if Mahomes is actually salty about his draft position, he doesn’t talk about it with teammates.
“I know he takes pride in his performance and he is crazy competitive so he wanted to be first overall, he wanted to be the first quarterback,” Schwartz says. “But he is so self-motivated I don't think that is a daily thing he needs to remind himself.”
While Mahomes wouldn’t admit to any rivalry with Trubisky or Deshaun Watson or any other QBs drafted in 2017, he did confirm that he wanted to be the first quarterback drafted in ’17.
“I think anyone that goes about it wants to be that first guy,” Mahomes said. “But you know there is a process to it and not everyone can be picked first. I ended up in a great situation in Kansas City. A situation where I wanted to be at [with] an organization that’s taken me and made me the best player I could be at this time.”
Schwartz also recognizes that Mahomes landed in a much better situation in Kansas City. Chicago didn’t have much of a plan in place to support Trubisky—at least not in the way Kansas City did with Mahomes. Trubisky was forced to play before he was ready as a rookie, and had to learn an entirely new offense after John Fox was fired. On the other hand, Mahomes learned for a season behind veteran Alex Smith, and has had coaching stability and one of the best offensive minds in the league in Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
“It is fair to say Pat would still be pretty good if he went somewhere else, but I think with Andy Reid and Alex Smith and all the things that we do I think those are very important as well,” Schwartz says. “If another team had taken him, it's not going to be the same Pat if you put him anywhere else. The situation was pretty perfect on top of his abilities. K.C. has the best version of him with the best offensive mind, and he had the best mentor possible in Alex and then all the talent we have on offense.”
Trubisky remains stuck in the outsized shadows of Mahomes and Watson. Even if the Bears had won this game, and even if Trubisky had played well, there would be no escaping the constant comparisons to Mahomes and the never-ending what-if games with his draft contemporaries who are playing at a much higher level.
“Unfortunately for Trubisky, that's going to part of his career,” says Schwartz. “I mean, that sucks for him.”
Lamenting over why the Bears didn’t draft Mahomes or Watson is daily sports talk radio therapy in Chicagoland, so much so that local station 670 The Score teases listeners with an edited clip of commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the Bears’ 2017 draft pick. But this time, it’s that alternate reality Chicago fans can’t help but wonder about.
And with the second pick in the 2017 NFL draft, says Goodell, the Chicago Bears select… Patrick Mahomes.
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