Patrick Mahomes looks a lot like Tom Brady against the Steelers defense
PITTSBURGH — No quarterback in the history of the NFL has torched the Steelers as Tom Brady has over the years, but Patrick Mahomes is starting to look like he might have some secret for decoding Mike Tomlin's defense, too.
Brady is 10-2 all-time against the Steelers with 29 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He's 3-0 against the Steelers in the playoffs.
In two career games against the Steelers, both Chiefs victories, Mahomes has passed for 584 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions. On Sunday night in Kansas City, the Steelers will face Mahomes in the playoffs for the first time.
"One thing I can recall in both games is we didn't execute well," Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. "That's shame on us, but you tip your hat to them. He's a heck of a quarterback. He leads his team.
"Mental errors and mental mistakes and missed tackles and not being in your gaps, that's a recipe to give an offense what you want all day. We can't do that."
Mahomes was drafted in 2017, but he did not become Kansas City's starter until the 2018 season. In the second game of the '18 season, Mahomes threw for 326 yards and six touchdowns in a 42-37 win at Heinz Field. It was his coming-out party as the NFL's next star quarterback.
Mahomes has since led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl win and is trying to make it back to the AFC championship game for a fourth consecutive season. In the history of the NFL, only five other quarterbacks have led their teams to four consecutive conference title games — Brady, Jim Kelly, Ken Stabler, Troy Aikman and Donovan McNabb.
Last month, Mahomes threw for 258 yards and three touchdowns passes when the Chiefs beat the Steelers, 36-10.
What went wrong?
"The real question is what went right in that game?" Heyward said. "I can't say it enough. When it rained, it poured. The defense didn't get off [the field], penalties, they were able to run the ball. We didn't get enough pressure on the quarterback ..."
Not that Mahomes has only tortured the Steelers over the first five seasons of his career. He's been doing it pretty much to everyone.
Mahomes finished this season with 4,839 yards and 37 touchdown passes. He did throw a career-high 13 interceptions, but nine of those came in the first seven games when the Chiefs started the season 3-4.
Over the final 11 games, when the Chiefs went 10-1, Mahomes threw for 19 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
"He's very smart," defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. "He knows the game very well."
Cornerback Joe Haden said defending Mahomes is much like defending Ben Roethlisberger when he was in his prime. His ability to escape the pocket and give his receivers more time to get open is a big part of their offense.
"They do a lot of the things we did back in the day with Ben," Haden said. "It's not the initial first route. It's the scramble, him creating time and letting his receivers create space. We have to be able to plaster and not let Pat have too much time in the pocket."
Despite their uncharacteristic start to the season, the Chiefs still finished the regular season third in the NFL in total offense and fourth in scoring. They averaged 28.2 points per game and had 23 on the board by halftime in the game against the Steelers three weeks ago.
"We have to do a much better job in terms of preparing guys," Butler said. "They have to do a much better job in terms of preparing themselves.
"They're one of the better teams in the AFC. That's what makes this fun. You have to raise up and put out your best and see what happens."
It would be a monumental effort if the Steelers held the Chiefs offense below 28 points. The Chiefs have scored 28 or more in their past five games. Even when they've lost this year, the offense hasn't been the problem.
The Chiefs have scored 35, 31, 24 and 20 in four of their five losses. The only truly poor offensive performance against the Titans, who beat them, 27-3, in Tennessee.
"You look at our last game [against the Chiefs], and it was not a good game on our front," Heyward said. "You just have to be ready to play. There's not much more you can say. We did not have a good game and a good game plan.
"Our execution has to be a lot better. We understand we're playing a really good offense, a really good team, an MVP type of quarterback, skill players galore, a big offensive line, and an opportunistic defense. When you look at what they do, they got a good formula out there."