Thursday, March 30 2023

PHOENIX — Saturday is always strange for the Kansas City Chiefs. But in the best way.

They hold a walkthrough practice to prepare for their game on Sunday. And Patrick Mahomes‘ voice croaks across the practice field. He’s got another idea. A wild one. An idea just silly enough for the explosive Chiefs offense to pull off.

Mahomes, with help from offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, has designed a trick play that starts with a huddle that looks like a washing machine cycle. The players spin in a circle with their arms linked and somehow they come undone seamlessly into their position. A running back takes the snap and pitches to Mahomes, who then throws the ball across the formation. The receiver charges upfield for, hopefully, a big gain. 

It’s insanity — it would look like it belonged in a high school playbook if the play wasn’t so damn complicated.


That’s what Saturdays are for. Laughs. Experimentation. Oddity.

For quite some time, coach Andy Reid has given Mahomes and Bieniemy the floor to try out some so-ridiculous-it-might-just-work trick plays. If the QB and his OC have an idea or two for a trick play, Reid allows them to practice on the final few plays of the walkthrough on Saturday.

“We just get an opportunity to create some silly stuff,” tight end Travis Kelce said Tuesday. 

This does not mean that the play will appear in the game.

But sometimes, Reid sees something he likes. Heck, maybe he sees something he loves.

“It can get kind of crazy,” Kelce said. “The way you’re looking at it can feel like it’s crazy or it’s madness. But [Reid] does a good job of keeping everybody under control and making sure this thing doesn’t get too out of whack.”

That’s how the Chiefs developed and implemented their “Arctic Circle” play when their huddle spun into a trick formation (shown above). Sadly, the play never counted, with the officials flagging KC for a holding penalty. Still, we all got to enjoy the imaginative and whimsical play.

“So we go through the week and we always practice these plays that we want to get in the game plan and we have to show it on Saturday during our last walkthrough. We have these last few plays where we can kind of put a play in ourselves. And that’s how a lot of the cool plays have been getting made,” Mahomes told me Monday on Super Bowl Opening Night. “Obviously, the coaches come up with amazing plays and they come up with some of these sweet ways as well. But we have a couple of plays we came up with, so we show coach Reid on Saturday.”

There are some NFL players that remind media members that the sport is work. There are others who remind everyone that football is just a game. Mahomes, who falls in the latter category, still takes pure joy from this game. He plays football — in the most childish sense. He sees the field uniquely, because his physical tools allow him to play the game at a level no one has played before. He plays freely.

By channeling his inner child, Mahomes contributes to his team’s playbook.

“It kind of comes up on the fly. I like to think of myself as a creative mind. So I just to just be creative out there on the football field,” Mahomes said. “I just like having fun. You can’t substitute for anything. You want to work hard and get stuff done the right way, but you want to enjoy it while you do it.”

It’s normal for a quarterback to have a say in what his offense looks like — or what plays the offensive coordinator installs in any given week. Aaron Rodgers, for example, helped his offensive coordinators draw up plays in Green Bay, according to former Packers and current Chiefs receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. But Rodgers’ concepts didn’t involve him lining up at running back — nor did they include sending the quarterback in motion.

Yes, the Chiefs have done that, too. And while I couldn’t confirm Mahomes drew up this play, I’d be willing to bet he and Bieniemy conceptualized it and tested it — when else? — on a Saturday.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the ones that failed. They are honestly as epic as those that succeeded. Every mad scientist saw their experiments blow up in their faces, right? Kansas City’s offense is so explosive that it can afford a few big mistakes. Mahomes will overcome them.

Here’s an example from 2020 when the Chiefs tried a trick play against the Atlanta Falcons. Kansas City snapped the ball to a running back, who pitched the ball to receiver Sammy Watkins. He then fired the ball downfield to … Mahomes. And, as it turns out, Mahomes isn’t exactly a playmaking pass-catcher. Watkins threw an interception.

“He’s got a future in trick plays and as an offensive coordinator, for sure,” receiver Justin Watson said with a smile Monday. “It’d be like a ‘Waterboy’ offense where they’re bringing out all the tricks and gadgets.”

So … maybe not a true offensive coordinator. More of a trick-play consultant. 

In the meantime, Mahomes is one of the most electric and creative play-makers in the NFL. “He’s a master of deception,” Valdes-Scantling said. Because of that, the Philadelphia Eagles have Mahomes on their minds. But they won’t balk. Philly’s pass defense allowed the fewest yards in the NFL during the regular season. They’ll be disciplined on Super Bowl Sunday when Mahomes and Co. run one of these Saturday creations. 

And if they’re not disciplined — well, the Super Bowl is at stake.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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