It’s not that Patrick Mahomes blinked.
He was just beaten at his own game by Tom Brady.
The Patriots quarterback showed his ability to throw the deep ball — and some timely running — to lead the Patriots to a 43-40 win over the Chiefs.
Brady’s 4-yard touchdown run (which was assisted by Chiefs rookie outside linebacker Breeland Speaks letting him go, perhaps to avoid a penalty) was the capper on a night of impressive offense by both quarterbacks.
Or, it would have been a capper if Mahomes didn’t immediately answer with a 75-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 40, prior to Brady connecting with Rob Gronkowski for a 39-yard connection late to set up the game-winning field goal. It was that kind of night, with the two quarterbacks trading haymakers.
Brady finished 24-of-35 for 340 yards and a touchdown, an impressive 9.8 yards per pass attempt.
Mahomes threw two interceptions in the first half (matching his total for the first five games of the season), but led his team back impressively from the early problems.
They still settled for too many field goals, but their flurry of big plays late made this one of the most entertaining games of the season.
Mahomes finished with 352 yards (and a 9.9 yards per attempt average) and four touchdowns to go with the mistakes, but made it clear that even though he lost his first game of the season, he’s leading a team that will likely see the Patriots again in the playoffs.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. The Patriots have made do with a fleet of replaceable-part niche backs in the past.
They may have something approaching a bell cow in rookie Sony Michel.
The first-rounder (their second one, chosen 31st overall) finished with 24 carries for 106 yards, continuing a run of solid play.
He was inactive in the opener and had just 84 rushing yards combined in his first two games. But with his 112-yard outburst against the Dolphins and another 98 against the Colts last week, he’s showing indications he’s different from their usual assembly line backs.
He was part of a dynamic tandem at Georgia with Nick Chubb (who was taken four picks after him, by the Browns in the second round), but with each passing week, he looks like he can be a traditional every-down back, as long as he stays healthy.
Amazingly, there wasn’t a single punt until the 3:50 mark of the fourth quarter, as two offenses traded shots (and occasional turnovers).
Offense is up league-wide, so high scoring is becoming more common. But it’s still refreshing to see teams play an open style, after years of football being choked to death by cynical coaches who were afraid to let their teams make mistakes. Or excitement.
3. Chiefs safety Eric Berry hasn’t played this year, and his absence is evident against the Patriots.
Not having him on the field with a “heel” injury (after last year’s Achilles tear) has compromised their ability to cover any tight end, or the middle of the field in general.
But they’re also down numbers in the middle of the secondary, with Daniel Sorensen on injured reserve. With Eric Murray also inactive, they were without their top three safeties, with Jordan Lucas making his first start next to Ron Parker.
Lucas was acquired in a trade with the Dolphins just before final cuts, and Parker was brought back after the Falcons cut him this summer. They performed well enough, but it’s far from a sustainable situation.
4. Losing a talented returner such as De'Anthony Thomas to a practice injury was a bad break for the Chiefs. Thomas suffered a broken leg when a teammate stepped on him in practice Thursday, in the same leg he broke last year.
But under special teams coordinator Dave Toub, the Chiefs filled in more than acceptably.
Tremon Smith‘s 97-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter set the Chiefs up for a go-ahead score.
This sixth-rounder from Central Arkansas showed the kind of speed that makes the Chiefs the team most likely to field an Olympic relay team. Smith ran a 4.38-second 40 at his pro day workout, putting him in good company.
5. Say what you want about Gronkowski. At least he’s house-broken.
The subtly hilarious moment of the first half was when Brady yelled at his All-Pro tight end to get out of his three-point stance at the line of scrimmage, and the NBC mics picked it up.
“Gronk, stand up,” Brady yelled. Gronkowski immediately stood up, as one does when Brady barks orders.
Gronk wasn’t playing as much fetch as he’s used to until late in the game, but I’d bet that if Brady told him to roll over, Gronkowski would have, and waited patiently for the belly rub and the treat.