KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mecole Hardman Jr. was wide open in the left flat.
With a flick of the wrist, Patrick Mahomes was poised to put the Kansas City Chiefs in front against the Los Angeles Chargers in a critical Thursday night showdown at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
With the AFC West hanging in the balance, it seemed too easy — until Mahomes spiked the ball short and left like a first pitch by John Wall at a Washington Nationals game.
“It was a really (bad) throw,” Mahomes said. “Sorry about my language. That’s all it was.”
Mahomes didn’t get the seams of the football, rushed the throw, overstrided and “just threw it into the ground.”
Things would get worse from there.
After the Chiefs’ depleted defense — which played without three starters — got their third goal-line stop of the game, Mahomes tossed an interception that helped the Chargers bump the lead to eight points.
Kansas City was on the ropes.
Mahomes, who’d been off target on several throws earlier in the game as well, could be forgiven if his confidence was shaken.
Instead, tight end Travis Kelce reminded him that he’s Patrick F. Mahomes — a former MVP, a former Super Bowl MVP and arguably the best young quarterback in the league today.
“He was the first guy that came up to me after the interception and was just like, ‘Hey, let’s show that heart. Get back out there. We believe in you,’” Mahomes said. “It seems like he’s always that guy for everybody. He has a true belief in every single person on this team, and we feed off that energy that he brings every single day.”
The Chiefs’ offense rolled from there, embarking on three consecutive 75-yard scoring drives — including one in overtime — to rally for a 34-28 win and put a stranglehold on the division.
Kansas City now leads Los Angeles by two games with three to play as it closes in on a record sixth straight AFC West crown.
“I feel like we’ve seen this story a lot of times in my four years here,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said.
Coach Andy Reid added, “He just keeps firing. That’s the part you love about him. He’s never out of it mentally. He just keeps rolling.”
Reid said Mahomes has a unique ability to continue to “trust himself, trust the guys around him, trust the calls. He doesn’t ever question that stuff. He just goes and plays. There’s just so many little things I appreciate from him. That’s why he’s one of the greatest.”
During the final 9:29 of regulation and overtime, Mahomes went 10 of 16 for 197 yards with three touchdowns and a two-point conversion. He finished 31 of 47 for 410 yards, the seventh 400-yard game of his career and second this season.
“Those two drives before that, where I dirted the fourth-down play and threw the interception, put us in a hole, but I think guys just rallied and fought and found a way to win the game,” Mahomes said.
He took Kelce’s message to heart, believing there was enough time left — and enough talent on the roster — to author yet another brilliant comeback.
“He’s still progressing as a quarterback in the National Football League,” Kelce said. “With the reps, he’s going to find a way to handle adversity. All I can do is support him, bring the energy, let him know that we’ve still got 9 minutes left in this game to try and find a way to score and try to find a way to win this ballgame.”
Kelce noted that he wasn’t the only one in Mahomes’ ear to offer encouragement, singling the offensive line for being “special.” Together, they mounted a special comeback, too.
“Whenever you still have a fighting chance, you’ve just got to believe that you’re going to go out there and make it happen,” Mahomes said. “I thought the guys stepped up to the challenge and made some big plays happen there at the end of the game.”
The never-give-up attitude and resilience is ingrained in Mahomes’ NFL DNA — even during rough patches.
“Obviously, it sucks in the moment,” Mahomes said. “I promise you. I felt as bad as anyone after that throw in that situation and knew how bad it looked, but you get another chance in this league. The next drive, the next game — whatever it is, you better be ready for that moment.”
Those are lessons the Chiefs learned collectively during a 3-4 start to the season, but those wretched days seem like ancient history amid the current win streak.
“Through all the criticism that he’s had this year, we find ourselves winning our seventh in a row,” Kelce said. “That’s just him leading us nonstop every single week, every single play of every single game — putting the team on his shoulders to try and find a way to get a win.”