Allen Park — Twenty-nine different quarterbacks have won NFL MVP since The Associated Press established the award in 1957, with eight at least doubling up for multiple trophies.
Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes is coming to Ford Field on Sunday, and so far, he’s looking more like the latter category of Brady, Montana and Unitas types than one-hit wonders like Rich Gannon and Bert Jones.
Mahomes threw for a 5,000-yard, 50-touchdown season in his first year as Kansas City's starter, joining Detroit’s Matthew Stafford in the group of seven quarterbacks in the 5K club. Somehow, Mahomes is posting even better numbers so far in Year 2.
The quarterback, who turned 24 this month, has 1,195 yards and 10 touchdowns through three games, a ridiculous rate that has him paced for the league’s first 6,000-yard season and an improvement of his 50-touchdown output.
“All this that he’s doing is magical, I love to see him do it,” Lions safety Quandre Diggs said. “He’s a Texas guy, so I’m always rooting for a Texas guy.”
The son of 12-year major leaguer Pat Mahomes, Patrick also was a baseball star in Whitehouse, Texas.
Already committed to play football at Texas Tech, the Tigers still took a shot at him in the 37th round as a right-handed pitcher in the 2014 MLB draft, as he threw low-to-mid 90s. He actually played baseball for the Red Raiders as a freshman, making one relief appearance, facing three batters. His final career pitching line was two walks and one hit batsman.
Fall Saturdays were better, as he threw more than 11,000 yards in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid attack, including more than 5,000 in his junior season.
He left Lubbock after that and was picked 10th overall by the Chiefs in 2017, eight slots after Chicago took Mitchell Trubisky and two picks before Houston took Deshaun Watson.
While there seems to be no ceiling to Mahomes’ heights, he’ll see exactly that for the first time in an NFL game on Sunday: A ceiling.
That’s right, Kansas City’s trip to Detroit will serve as the first indoor game of Mahomes’ NFL career.
And since indoor games are historically regarded as a reason for an uptick in offensive numbers, that’s a scary thought for Detroit fans.
His season from nowhere a year ago had some predicting a regression for the encore. Besides, no quarterback has ever thrown for more than 40 touchdowns in consecutive seasons with the average drop-off being 18.8 scores the following year, according to fivethirtyeight.com.
But despite losing Tyreek Hill for a few weeks with a shoulder injury, the Chiefs have equipped Mahomes with an assortment of speedy options in tight end Travis Kelce and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Georgia rookie Mecole Hardman, who had an 83-yard score last week for his second career touchdown.
“This guy (Hardman) can get vertical right away,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said, adding about Watkins, his former AFC East opponent from Buffalo: “This is some of the best I’ve seen him ever look.”
Much of that can be attributed to his pass-thrower, as Mahomes is adept at making plays from any arm angle, foot position or frame of vision.
"The way he can make the no-look passes, the sidearm throws, the contested throws in tight windows," Diggs said. "He has the arm strength to throw it all over the field. That's why he's the MVP."
Two of Mahomes’ five losses in 22 starts, including playoffs, came across from Trey Flowers when the defensive end was with New England last season.
“Can’t give ya’ll the secret,” Flowers said, when asked about the keys to stopping Kansas City. “I think just us playing fundamentals.
“You see a lot of misdirections, you see a lot of things that attack your initial instinct.”
Even when the defense forces plays to break down, Mahomes still finds ways to the get on the highlight reel. His electric passes, including the occasional no-look delivery, have lit up social media. But it’s his composure that’s allowed him to take a leap so far in his second year leading the Chiefs, Patricia said.
“It just seems like he is just getting calmer in the pocket when things around him are changing,” Patricia said. “A lot of times early on his career he would rely on his athleticism, which we all know how athletic he is. He’s got great arm strength, but really what’s different now is his eyes. They just stay downfield. I think that’s really the difference of where the big plays are coming.”
The Lions will get their first look at Mahomes as he continues building on a young career that — for now — appears destined for Canton and the record books.
“He’ll put his own mark on it when it’s all said and done,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He’s a young guy that works his tail off and he tries to get better every day. It’s a tribute to probably his parents, I’d say, and just how he was raised. He’s a heck of a kid.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.