The last time anyone witnessed an All-Pro passer wearing a Chiefs uniform was…was…good grief when was it?
You reach for the history book and churn through the pages…back through people like Trent Green and Matt Cassell and Steve Bono…Todd Blackledge and Elvis Grbac. The names quickly stack up; the years quickly form decades. DeBerg and Fuller, Livingston, Kenney, and Gannon. You keep flipping and flipping until you reach 1966. Ah, finally, there it is: Len Dawson, All-Pro quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs.
52 years ago. Ancient days. AFL days.
Based upon the sudden flair and firepower now on display in KC, that drought could…well, maybe…perhaps possibly…be ending.
Introducing Patrick Mahomes. The newest entry to the Chiefs’ quarterback ledger. Last season he was the youngest QB to ever start a game for the Chiefs. Last Sunday in L.A, he cut up the Chargers with a whip-like arm and fancy, efficient feet…and when they needed the serious stuff, the gun, there was no problem there because, at age 23, Mahomes already carries one of the heaviest in the game.
But with that gun, we find another layer of polish that many big-arm rookies are unable to develop early in their careers, if ever. It’s a little thing called touch.
We saw it in the third quarter, on a fling over the middle to Sammy Watkins that set the Chiefs up at the L.A. four. We saw it again in the third, with Mahomes under pressure and on the move, throwing a high floater to a sliding Tyrell Hill that beat a third-and-13. And again, a few plays later, on a 36-yarder down the sideline that neatly cleared the linebacker and put the Chiefs ahead in commanding fashion, 31-12.
And, of course, Mahomes reached for that gun when he needed it, too. On the first-quarter touchdown to Hill, a deep slant, a side-arm sling he delivered off the back foot as Charger tackle Pat Afriyie was crashing into him. Off-balance but on-target, arm power on full display.
For the day it was 15 completions for 256 yards. 9.5 yards per attempt. Very serious numbers for a kid making his second professional start.
I did get a chuckle, however, at the end of the first half of that game. The Chiefs were at midfield with Mahomes dropping back, apparently looking for someplace to deliver the bomb, two seconds left.
“This definitely is going to be the Hail Mary,” said CBS analyst Dan Fouts during the telecast. “And with Mahomes’ arm, watch how high he’s gonna throw this ball.”
Mahomes then proceeded to uncork a half-assed shot down the middle, a line drive of a throw that was meant for, oh, any of the six or seven different people who hang around the ten-yard line. That’s right, people, hold onto your seat.
I think back to all the high-velocity QBs who’ve come into the league over the years, the ones who could crank back and blow holes in concrete when they wanted to…Terry Bradshaw, Doug Williams, John Elway, Vinny Testaverde, even Jay Schroeder with the old Redskins. Jeff George. Brett Favre, too. In college, they got by with bullying arm strength. Touch was something that eluded them. Mainly because they didn’t really need it. They’d rip it past defenders, creating ooohs and gasps from the crowd, the stories around town about damage to receivers’ hands.
“Early on, Terry would put the same amount of heat on a five-yard dump to Franco as he did when he bombed it deep,” says ex-Steeler personnel director Art Rooney, Jr. “That’s a bit of an exaggeration, you know, but you see the idea. Touch was a foreign concept to him. It really took years to develop.”
Former Packers QB Mark Brunell talked about Favre’s reliance on arm strength during his baby years in Green Bay, all the crazy, wack-job interceptions that came with it.
“I’m not just talking about interceptions,” said Brunell. “I’m talking about bad interceptions. You know, falling down, throwing it up in the air, trying to make something happen. Just trying to use his arm strength to just power it through. This isn’t Southern Miss. This isn’t Division I football. This is the NFL and that stuff doesn’t work. He relied so much on his strong arm to make something happen, which helped him at times, but was also his worst enemy at times.”
I remember, years ago, John Madden doing a Bengals game for CBS, getting a rare first-hand look at an AFC quarterback in his home ballpark. This time it was Cincy’s Boomer Esiason. Esiason was nearing the end of his first and only MVP season, a terrific year for him. A biting, wind-swept December day at Riverfront and Esiason were out there ripping the ball to his teammates, even on the shorties, the dump-offs. To those poor receivers and backs, it must’ve been like trying to catch an anvil spinning through the air. After one particular misfire, Madden finally spoke up.
“Boomer’s a fastball pitcher,” he said. “The biggest problem he had in his career is being able to throw short. He looks deep, and he wants to throw deep all the time. The biggest adjustment he’s had is to look deep then throw short. And when you throw short at 120-miles an hour, it’s hard to catch.”
One time the Denver Post gave Broncos receiver Rod Smith a delicate question: Who throws harder – Elway or Jay Cutler? Careful, Rod. Delicate egos involved here.
“I don’t know why there’s an argument,” answered Smith. “Quarterbacking is about precision. It’s about accuracy. I played with Will Furrer. To me, he threw harder than both of them.”
Prior to the 2018 draft, only three QBs had ever cracked the 60-mph mark in passing velocity at the NFL combine. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas did it back in 2014, then a kid named Bryan Bennett cracked the radar in 2015. It looks nice on a resume but… Thomas’ job is now playing tight end for the Buffalo Bills. Bennett has been bouncing his way around the CFL.
“Pure arm strength for arm strength’s sake is like uncontrolled speed,” former Ravens coach Brian Billick once said. “It’s worthless. You can’t just throw hard.”
The third 60 mile-an-hour man? Well, it wasn’t Will Furrer. It was Mahomes. The Chiefs’ new big gun. He’s got the touch, too. It’s a rich combination.
One that’s taken 52 years to find.
Tom Danyluk joins SportsGamblingPodcast after nine years as a columnist for Pro Football Weekly. His is also the author of three books on pro football. His latest, None Yards: 30 Years of John Madden in the Broadcast Booth, is available at Amazon.com through this link: https://www.amazon.com/None-Yards-Years-Madden-Broadcast-ebook/dp/B07DRXR7TH