KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Patrick Mahomes had the fourth-lowest yardage output of his career in the Chiefs' 34-20 season-opening win Thursday, and the reason that needs to be stated first is because of what came next.
As he assessed the performance with his backup quarterbacks afterward, they told him it was one of the best games he'd ever played.
Mahomes managed only 211 yards on 24 completions, the former a number he has eclipsed 27 times and even doubled three times. His yards per attempt - 6.59 - is the third lowest total in his 32 career starts.
But, uh, one of his best games?
"Chad (Henne) and Matt (Moore) both said it was one of the best games I've played because I took the check-downs and didn't try to force it down the field when it wasn't there," Mahomes said. "It's something that I've learned from those veteran guys. I've learned from Coach (Andy) Reid. All of us want to go for the big shot. All of us want to go for the touchdown pass every single time. But if defenses are going to play us back, and they're going to play us in coverage, I'm going to take the stuff underneath and let the guys make plays and find ways to score."
It's been a particular point of emphasis. The Chiefs are anticipating they will see more teams play Cover 2 defense this season, with deep-lying safeties residing in the secondary to counter the Chiefs' speed. So Mahomes has worked on settling for the short routes. Not as a preference, to be clear. As a necessity.
It's precisely the way the opener unfolded. Mahomes threw the ball 32 times against the Texans, who nestled into their Cover 2, and his average pass traveled only 4.7 yards downfield, per NextGenStats from Zebra Technologies.
His 24 completions reached receivers an average of 3.2 yards downfield. That's the lowest among all 32 NFL starting quarterbacks Sunday. Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, the reigning MVP winner known more for his running than his passing, averaged 10.3 yards.
In 2019, Mahomes' average completed pass traveled 6.2 yards before finding its destination. In 2018, the number was 6.4.