ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Patrick Mahomes II was poised to enter his first NFL game, the butterflies no doubt waltzing in his stomach, when Andy Reid sauntered over and asked him about the first play he would call.
It was the first play that starter Alex Smith and backup Tyler Bray had run, both of them hitting a deep ball down the sideline.
Smith’s throw to Tyreek Hill helped to set up a touchdown in Friday night’s game against San Francisco, while Bray’s 83-yard touchdown throw was called back by a penalty.
With success like that, how could Mahomes argue?
So the No. 10 overall draft pick trotted out to the huddle, called the same play and looked for his wide receiver down the right sideline.
And while a bit underthrown — nerves, perhaps — the throw likewise went for a long completion, only to be called back by a holding penalty.
“Coach Reid actually asked if I liked it, from what I’d seen from the other quarterbacks,” said Mahomes, who performed so well in his preseason debut that he moved past Bray on the depth chart when practices resumed Sunday. “They both completed theirs, so I thought it was a good idea.”
Now, the upshot of three long throws by three different quarterbacks isn’t a whole lot. This was still a relatively meaningless preseason game, one played primarily by backups with little hope of making the roster.
Yet it said something about Reid’s desire to push the ball downfield more this season.
“It’s tough to drive the whole length of the field,” he said, “and the way the kickers are kicking now, you normally are not getting out there too far. So to have the opportunity to strike, I think, is a big deal. We can do better than what we did last year.”
There are a multitude of reasons for the Chiefs’ failure to force the ball downfield, starting with personnel.
Smith is hardly known for his big arm, and his playing style lends itself to check-downs and a more conservative batch of throws, rather than deep shots into heavy coverage.
His wide receiver group was also incapable of creating the kind of separation needed to complete those long throws. Jeremy Maclin was slowed by an injury much of the season, speedster Tyreek Hill was a rookie finding his way, and the rest of the group offered little in downfield threats.
But while the personnel hasn’t changed much this season — Maclin is gone, Hill has a year of work under his belt — Reid still seems adamant about changing his approach.
“We came out and the first play of the game, we threw it up top,” said tight end Travis Kelce, who returned to practice Sunday after dealing with a sore knee. “That should send a message to the rest of the league.”
Smith seems to be taking it to heart, too. He saw the 49ers defensive backs inching toward the line of scrimmage, and he immediately recognized the opportunity was there for a downfield throw.
“I just got a good look at it,” he said. “They came up and challenged both of those guys. I felt good about it, taking a shot downfield. This was not a game plan. We were just running base stuff and trying to execute our fundamentals.”
That’s reason for optimism, too, considering Reid is one of the best in the game at scheming up plays. Imagine what the Chiefs could do once they have a game plan in place.
“We don’t overemphasize this first preseason game,” offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “We understand it’s our first time out there. For some of these guys it’s their first time out there under the lights, understanding that they’re trying to live a dream. So you have to have that balance of not putting too much emphasis on it, but understanding that it is important.”
NOTES: Reid was quick to note Mahomes moving up the depth chart was a fluid situation. “We’re going to give Patrick a chance to work with the twos like Tyler has had the past few weeks,” Reid said. “It gives him a chance to step up and see what he can do.” … Kelce said his knee soreness was not serious, and he would have been able to play through it during the regular season. … DT Chris Jones participated in a portion of practice for the first time. He had arthroscopic knee surgery last month.