By Nick Athan
Eight months ago, the Kansas City Chiefs suffered a demoralizing defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead. It was a game that adequately summed up the good and bad of the 2022 season, and it exposed glaring holes that needed to be addressed in the off-season.
If you’re a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, with the most gifted generational quarterback in franchise history, you should buy into the hype surrounding this franchise. With Patrick Mahomes under center, he understands the real chase for supremacy and respect amongst his peers, comes from winning rings.
Now I can offer a few takes surrounding some great QBs that have one Super Bowl title or never reached the pinnacle of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, which has earned tremendous respect. Still, Mahomes admitted in training camp, he played not to lose against the Bengals, and that lack of focus contributed to the team's AFC title loss.
As the dawn of the 2022 season is finally upon us, Mahomes appears to have found new footing. He’s also in uncharted waters with so many doubting he can be superhuman again. What we can see, he’s in the best shape of his career, he has a son on the way, a beautiful wife and daughter at home, new TV Commercials in the can, lifetime money in the bank, and no distractions heading into the year. In other words, he can just play football.
As hard as that title game loss had to be for a man so driven to succeed, it might end up being the very moment his career arc in the NFL rises to the current goat, Tom Brady. After all, people forget Brady went ten years between his first Super Bowl title and his second. I doubt the same happens to Mahomes.
Mahomes wasn’t the only culprit to the team’s sour season-ending loss. Head Coach, Andy Reid, and offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, get much of the blame – probably the defense as well. That said, Reid’s refusal to run the ball against a four-man front and retreating defenders, cost him time of possession and points. EB’s lack of adjustments, left Mahomes to sink or swim fitting round pegs in square holes. I can see why the offense bogged down at the end of the first half, when a simple field goal, probably sealed the win for the Chiefs. In the second half, no adjustments were made to get Hardman the ball when he was nearly uncovered the entire game.
You can probably surmise I’m not a Bieniemy fan. Primarily because this offense went flat in too many games last season. Granted Reid and the players had a hand in the unwinding of the offense, but that will not be the case in 2022.
When Reid asked his former Offensive Coordinator, Matt Nagy, to be (wink wink) Mahomes Quarterback Coach and Game Coordinator, he told me Reid didn’t like the direction of the offense, and he felt strongly, Nagy was the man to help him fix it.
Nagy is positioned well in the hierarchy this year, to move to OC in 2023 and eventually as Reid’s successor, whenever he steps down. As far as Bieniemy, I suspect he’ll get enough accolades that the environment will be prime for him to accelerate to a Head Coach in Cleveland or Carolina.
In the front office, General Manager, Brett Veach, had to be bold this off-season to bring in some much-needed roster turnover. He jettisoned both Safety, Tyron Mathieu and Wide Receiver, Tyreek Hill. Neither fit the change that was needed to add speed to this team.
Mathieu played hurt last year, but he also didn’t play well the last season and a half. His reputation only went so far, and you could tell his affinity for avoiding contact, and irritations with his teammates on the field, had grown thin in the locker room.
With Hill, Veach found a team willing to grossly overpay to land Hill. The Dolphins were set up beautifully by the tag team of Veach, and Hill’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus. That duo got Hill a boatload of cash to play for the Dolphins, and five draft picks to the Chiefs. All that became possible thanks to the New York Jets, who tried to land Hill, but were used by the Chiefs and Hill’s agent to increase the draft compensation that ultimately KC wanted from Miami.
As we saw in April, Veach turned those picks into a complete roster youth rebuild, that saw nine of his 10 picks from the 22 draft class make the final 53-man roster.
Now, what does this all mean?
It really doesn’t mean anything unless the kids excel on the field.
The Chiefs continue to get the shaft from the national media because the AFC West is stacked, and most think Mahomes and company will slide down the AFC. The Chargers, Broncos, and Raiders, have all gained ground in recent months because they had no choice if they want to catch the Chiefs. Russell Wilson is a solid pickup for the Broncos, but I question how good he’ll be considering, that he really wasn’t a great quarterback in Seattle the last two years.
Justin Herbert and Derek Carr played one of the ugliest games to end the 2021 season we’ve ever seen, but they still need to win a playoff game, before I take either quarterback seriously. Chargers Head Coach, Brandon Staley has grossly underdelivered to date, and new Raiders Head Coach, Josh McDaniels has much to improve upon after his disaster as the Broncos head coach years ago.
Despite all that, some people have picked the Chiefs to finish 4th in the division. To me, it’s all nonsense, wishful thinking, and the Hill absence. Sure, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow are getting much of the national love. That tells me Mahomes can play with house money beginning Sunday in Arizona.
To me, the loss of Hill was a blessing. In the games when Mahomes is virtually unstoppable, he spreads the ball to every receiving option on the field. This season, he has a strong core of wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs, that can all catch the ball.
Now many of them are new, but the way Mahomes has taken this group under his wings since free agency began, I’m not going to question he’s going to have an MVP season with the likes of Smith-Schuster, Hardman, Moore, Justin Watson, and Valdes-Scantling, Kelce, and Fortson, not to mention a trio of solid running backs.
For the true believers of the Chiefs, they remain in the AFC catbird seat because of Mahomes.
On Sunday, Reid, Nagy, and Mahomes will unveil their off-season plan against the Arizona Cardinals, the site of Super Bowl LVI.