KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has built his entire reputation off producing the improbable. He's launched mind-blowing passes, delivered soul-crushing clutch plays and amassed the kind of numbers that literally belong in video games. Now he's well on his way to doing something that shouldn't shock anybody these days. He's about to roll through another season that ends with him being named the NFL's Most Valuable Player.
Normally, it takes about half a season before such predictions can have much merit. Not after the way Mahomes carved up the Baltimore Ravens in the Chiefs' 33-28 win on Sunday. The longer this guy plays, the more it feels like he's adding more distance between him and anybody who could rightfully compete with him for the league's most prestigious individual honor. He's only in his second season as a starter and he already looks scarier than he did while winning the MVP last year.
The numbers against Baltimore -- 27-of-37 passing, 374 yards and three touchdowns -- only tell half the story. The Ravens presented the toughest challenge of the season for Mahomes thus far and he responded by doing what he usually does -- dominating his opponent with a frightening level of precision.
What made Mahomes's performance against Baltimore so impressive was the fact that he's still thriving as his offense takes major hits. Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill is out with a collarbone injury. Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher just underwent surgery to repair a core muscle. The Chiefs also entered this game without one key running back (Damian Williams) and watched another one go down during the game (LeSean McCoy).
Most quarterbacks watch their production decline when such problems arise. Mahomes simply finds a way to elevate his game to another level. Last season he was more of dynamic pupil at this stage, a gifted talent who often sat on the bench and consulted with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid after every offensive possession. This year there's less tutoring and far more trust from the coaches that Mahomes can recognize and process whatever a defense throws at him.
The results thus far have been jaw-dropping. Through three games, Mahomes has completed nearly 72 percent of his passes for 1,195 yards and 10 touchdowns for a team that has yet to lose. The man threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns in his first NFL season and it sounded ridiculous. Now he's looking very much like a man who might surpass those numbers.
There isn't another player in the league right now who can compete with that. Drew Brees is sidelined with a thumb injury, Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season and Tom Brady simply doesn't put up numbers like that anymore. You can throw out Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott -- who admittedly has enjoyed a strong start for the Cowboys -- but that's really reaching at this point. This game against Baltimore was billed as a showdown between Mahomes and Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson and it seemed like a silly narrative once the game ended.
Jackson unquestionably has a bright future. Mahomes literally is the future. When asked how much his success has to do with his own maturation, he said, "Just being on the same page as Coach Reid and knowing why he's calling the plays that he calls (is significant). They got me with a few pressures today, but at the same time I was able to adjust quicker and have more success earlier in the game."
The Ravens represented a significant test for Mahomes because they gave him so much trouble last year. The Chiefs won that contest, 27-24 in overtime, but they were the first defense to really harass the young quarterback. Mahomes finished that contest with gaudy stats -- 377 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception -- but Kansas City would've lost if not for a play that became one of his signature moments. Facing a fourth-and-9 late in regulation, he scrambled away from heavy pressure and heaved a desperation pass that Hill turned into a 48-yard catch to set up a game-tying field goal.
Mahomes didn't need such a miracle on Sunday. He beat the Ravens' blitz with an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson midway through the second quarter. Mahomes burned the Baltimore defense a few minutes later when he found rookie Mecole Hardman on an 83-yard touchdown catch. Mahomes also gave the Chiefs a 30-13 advantage late in the third quarter when he found McCoy on a screen pass that resulted in a 14-yard touchdown.
As big as all those plays were, the one that should be remembered most was the last one Mahomes ran. The Ravens had closed the deficit to 33-28 when the Chiefs faced a third-and-9 from their own 37-yard line with about a minute remaining. Instead of going conservative with a run play that chewed up clock, Reid called for Mahomes to throw a screen pass to backup running back Darrell Williams. The play netted 16 yards and clinched the victory.
By the way, it was a play Mahomes had asked his coach to run if the Chiefs found themselves in such a situation.
"I keep it open with those guys (the quarterbacks)," Reid said when asked about Mahomes liking that play-call under those circumstances. "If they've got an idea that they're feeling, let's put it on the table. We give them the game plan and if it's something he's feeling, then absolutely (we'll run it). That's all part of this. We don't close our ears on anything, and we check our egos."
Added Mahomes: "We go through our four-minute situations every single week. I've done it for three years and we finally called a play that we had already prepared for the night before. It just shows you that every little detail matters. We had talked about that play the night before. You'd think people might let that go if we hadn't called it for a couple years. We had it prepared, we were ready to call it and we had success when we had the opportunity to run it."
Moments like those should put the rest of the league on notice. As dangerous as Mahomes was as an inexperienced leader in 2018, he's even more frightening as a savvy veteran in his second year as a starter. Mahomes actually is so good at this stage that all those comparisons to Brett Favre -- the ones that followed him out of college -- are making even more sense. After all, Favre did win three MVP's in a row in the 1990s, when he was at the height of his own career. (Peyton Manning is the only other quarterback to win that award in consecutive years in the Super Bowl era).
It used to be enough to simply think about all the magic Mahomes produced last season. That was the kind of performance that has only happened a handful of times in NFL history. Yet that's the astonishing part of what Mahomes is doing in his brief career. He's extending the boundaries of what we consider conventional, while making us believe that everything that once seemed unimaginable is now clearly possible with him under center.