Not enough room to step up in the pocket. Not enough space to the left. None to the right.
As Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes searched for a throwing avenue, he settled on a rather unique option.
He moved vertically. A jump pass.
Mahomes contorted his body, fired the ball 20 yards on a straight line to wide receiver Mecole Hardman and watched him take it to the house for a 63-yard score. So it worked. Because of course it did.
In spite of the Chiefs’ 35-32 loss in Tennessee, that play made a statement.
In his first game since dislocating his kneecap 24 days earlier, Mahomes looked like, well, Mahomes. He completed 36 of 50 passes for 446 yards — the second-highest total of his career — and three touchdowns.
So, if you were wondering ...
“The knee is doing fine,” he said after the game. “Just how we expected going into the game. Give credit to the trainers and the training staff for getting me ready to play. The knee feels fine, and I’m glad to get through another game.”
It took one game for Mahomes to do something rarely seen on a football field. One game to shock even his teammates.
Nearly half an hour after the loss, when reporters asked Hardman in the locker room about the pass he caught, he still had not yet realized the manner in which Mahomes threw it — both feet off the ground as it left his hand.
“That’s why I didn’t see the ball,” Hardman said. “I’ve never gotten anything like that. I ain’t never caught a jump pass.”
Mahomes had never thrown one like that, at least not in an NFL game.
But he’s practiced them.
“I have actually been working on it quite a bit” with quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka, Mahomes said. The key, he said, is the torque he’s able to generate with his hips, a concentration of things he worked on during his offseason throwing program.
The hips were fine. More importantly, the knee was, too — it absorbed a first-half hit, Mahomes shaking off a 315-pound lineman diving into his body. Even his ankle wasn’t the factor it had appeared to be in the weeks before the knee injury forced a two-week absence.
If you’re searching for a silver lining about the knee injury that held Mahomes out of two games, start there.
“We knew we needed rest for the ankle. We knew we needed some days off,” Mahomes said. “With having the knee (injury), I got to rest that ankle. I was able to play and do what I could. I don’t have any pain there.”
The Chiefs announced Mahomes’ availability Friday after a full week of practice. On the surface, it represented a quick turnaround from the gravity of his kneecap dislodging on the field in Denver.
On Sunday, however, he looked like himself. Well, after the opening play of the game. Mahomes forced a ball into traffic that was initially ruled an interception before replay showed it hit the ground.
Then? Back to normal.
“I trust in those guys — the doctors and the training staff — and they told me I was ready to go,” Mahomes said. “Obviously you want to get out there and get hit just to get yourself settled in the game, (but) I had full confidence I was going to be able to play this game.”