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The Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes calls this season perhaps the most challenging of his career

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes was willing to admit Thursday that this season has been perhaps the most challenging of his career.

His statistics were down across the board. The Chiefs lost six games, including five in an eight-week stretch midway through the season. He had several very visible sideline blowups, his pent-up anger directed at teammates and officials alike.

“I would say it's just challenging in the fact that I had to deal with a lot of adversity, not having the success that I've had in the past,” Mahomes explained. “Knock on wood, I haven't had to deal with the injuries I have had before, but at the same time, being able to not win all the games and go out there and have big stats and all that kind of stuff has been different.”

Indeed, this has been a much different season for the Chiefs, even if the result has largely been the same: They will be playing in their sixth consecutive AFC championship game when they face the Ravens on Sunday in Baltimore.

But this was not the same sort of juggernaut that rolled through the regular season, had the No. 1 seed wrapped up by the middle of December, and had the luxury of playing all their playoff games at Arrowhead Stadium.

Rather, they ended up as the No. 3 seed, forcing the Chiefs to win last Sunday in Buffalo just to get the opportunity to play on the road again this week.

Only once before in six years as the starter did Mahomes lose five times in the regular season, but the Chiefs lost that many in a two-month span this season. And they weren't just losses but head-scratching, frustration-inducing defeats.

There was the loss in Denver that started it all, when the Chiefs turned the ball over five times. The one to Philadelphia, when Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped a go-ahead TD pass in the final minutes. The one in Green Bay, when officials didn't throw a flag for pass interference that could have set up Kansas City for a go-ahead score. And the loss to the Bills, when Kadarius Toney's offensive offside penalty wiped out an audacious go-ahead touchdown throw.

The Chiefs' best offensive output during that midseason swoon was 346 yards against Buffalo. By comparison, the Chiefs only had three games with fewer yards all of last season, when they went on to beat Philadelphia in the Super Bowl.

Throw in the fact that Kansas City led the NFL by a wide margin in dropped passes, and penalties were rampant at what seemed to be the most inopportune times, and it makes some sense that Mahomes was frequently boiling over on the sideline.

“It's taught me how to win in different ways, though, and become the best quarterback for our team,” he said. “Not necessarily the best quarterback for stats and stuff like that, but the best quarterback for us to go out there and get wins.”

Just as they did in the wild-card round against Miami. And the divisional round against Buffalo.

In fact, all of the adversity Kansas City faced this season might have better prepared this team for a deep postseason run than the relatively easy path it followed to the AFC championship game the previous five seasons.

“It grows you, right?” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “There's a lot of parity in this league. You better figure that out early. It's not an easy ride. You've got to be able to battle, and battle through things. I can tell the guys, the veterans can tell the guys, but the young guys have to experience it. And I thought they handled it.

“They focused on the job at hand,” Reid said, “and they got better, and kept getting better at their game.”

Now, they might be playing the best they have all season at precisely the right time.

“At the end of the day, we want to compete. We want to win,” Mahomes said. “We don't care if we have a lot of yards, a lot of touchdowns. We want to win. It's about everyone's success. ... When you have a bunch of guys that want to win no matter what it takes, and nobody wants the shine, that's when you have great football teams."

NOTES: WR Skyy Moore (knee), DT Derrick Nnadi (tricep) and LG Joe Thuney (pectoral) did not practice Thursday. RB Isiah Pacheco (toe) went through the walkthrough but sat out the full practice. FS Mike Edwards also did some work as he tries to clear the concussion protocol in time to play Sunday. ... LB Willie Gay Jr. (neck) remains a question after he failed to make it through the Buffalo game. He would be the primary spy on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. “His neck is stiff. He can't turn,” Reid said. “Getting better, but that's what happened during the (Bills) game. It just wasn't working.”

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