NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Patrick Mahomes was pulled in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game despite clearing the NFL’s concussion protocol after taking a shot to the head because coach Andy Reid felt the Kansas City Chiefs‘ quarterback needed a break.
But Mahomes and the Chiefs will find themselves in an unusual place, and not just because of their 3-4 record. The Titans game marked the first time in Mahomes’ career that he went without a touchdown in a regular-season game. Three points are the fewest for the Chiefs since Reid arrived in 2013.
Mahomes, who threw an interception and lost a fumble on Sunday, and the Chiefs are fighting through adversity for the first time in Mahomes’ pro career.
“We have enough leaders on this team that we have to find a way,” Mahomes said. “I don’t know what that’s going to take yet. We’ll go in. We’ll talk about it. We’ll watch the film but I trust we’ll find it. That’s part of leadership. That’s what great teams are, being able to battle through adversity. It’s been kind of rainbows and flowers and awesome for these last few years. But whenever you want to build something substantial and you want to build something great, you’re going to go through [times] like this.
“It’s still early in the year. We can still get whatever we want but it’s going to take us getting better every single day. … We have the talent in this locker room that we can make it happen.”
Mahomes has thrown nine interceptions this season after having just six all of last season. He has committed multiple turnovers in each of the last three games.
“Today it was probably me,” Mahomes said of what’s happened to the usually high-scoring Chiefs. “I was just pressing a little bit too early in the game. We kind of got down and we were in that kind of mode [of] no-huddle, which you don’t want to be in in the NFL. You can execute a little bit but it’s hard to sustain drives. I’ve just got to be better early in games so we don’t get behind like we did today.
“I have to be better in order for this offense to score points.”
The Titans scored on each of their five first-half possessions and led 27-0 at halftime. Mahomes indicated he was trying too hard to help the Chiefs keep up.
“It was just me trying to make things happen,” he said. “In this league you kind of have to let things develop. You have to go through the process of making plays. It takes one play at a time. You can’t have like a 14-point play. They scored early and I kind of have to go through the process of just getting the ball down the field, not trying to do too much.”
He brought up his fumble late in the first half as an example. The Chiefs were driving when Mahomes lost the ball fighting for extra yards at the end of a scramble. The Titans recovered.
“Just go down,” he said. “Why did I try to get the extra two yards? It’s just things like that that add up and end up getting [the Chiefs] beat pretty bad.
“You have to believe in the guys around you. You have to know that you can go the long way, that you can take the short pass and guys can make guys miss. You can hang in the pocket and make throws. I’ll look at this film and learn from it.”
Reid, without specifying that he was talking about Mahomes, said, “I’ve seen our guys do it and make the plays. They’re just not doing it now but I trust those things will get taken care of. … We’re right there to do the right thing and make something happen and it’s bouncing the other way. We’ve got to fix it.”
On Mahomes, Reid said, “He’s trying to make things happen. We’re all part of this.”
“Just felt like we needed somewhat of a spark,” coach Matt Rhule said of the quarterback change. “Sam will be our quarterback next week. He will be our quarterback moving forward.”
The decision came four days after Rhule said he had “bought in” on Darnold as his quarterback when asked about the possibilities of Carolina pursuing a trade for Houston’s Deshaun Watson.
“I believe Sam is going to be a great quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, and I haven’t done any work on anyone else,” Rhule said Thursday on a conference call with Giants beat writers. “He’s my focus, and I expect him to play his best football moving forward.
“I’m not looking anywhere else.”
Rhule turned to backup P.J. Walker with 12:41 remaining Sunday and Carolina trailing 15-3. Darnold had an intentional grounding penalty from the end zone in the first half that resulted in a safety. He also had an interception near the New York goal line on a poorly thrown ball.
It was his seventh interception in the past four games after throwing only three in Carolina’s 3-0 start. Sunday’s loss dropped the Panthers to 3-4.
“Throwing on time, taking the open receiver, being patient, protecting the football, not throwing off his back foot,” Rhule said of what has been different about Darnold the past four games. “He had some times on third down where guys were open. We’re predetermining the thinking. Again, I can understand young quarterbacks go through that. We’re obviously not coaching Sam well enough.
“This isn’t about Sam. We needed more from the run game. We needed some explosive plays. We needed some big catches.”
Darnold was 9-of-18 for 52 yards and the interception against standard pressure, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He entered the game with a 61% completion percentage on those plays, second worst among qualifying quarterbacks.
“I’ve been on record,” Rhule said. “Quarterbacks go through ups and downs. Sam’s got to take care of the football. Sam’s got to throw on time. If it’s not there, he’s got to find a checkdown. We can’t be driving with a chance to take the lead and throw an interception.
“His sense of urgency this week, I expect to be heightened.”
Sunday’s game was Darnold’s first game at MetLife Stadium after he spent the first three seasons of his NFL career with the New York Jets, who traded him to the Panthers this offseason. He was 8-11 at MetLife with the Jets.
Rhule said he never wants to embarrass any player, but just felt Darnold had reached the “tipping” point where a change needed to happen.
Asked if he was embarrassed, Darnold said: “When you get to that point, getting pulled, I just internalize it. Honestly, it’s more of those situations where it is what it is. He thought at the time that would provide a spark putting P.J. in there.”
Walker finished 3-of-14 for 33 yards and also had one run for 13 yards during his time in the game.
Rhule doesn’t expect Sunday’s decision on Darnold to change how the Panthers approach the trade deadline on Nov. 2 in terms of looking for another quarterback.
“I can’t look to the future, but I don’t believe it will,” he said. “Everyone is disappointed now. There’s emotions flying around. You saw the game. It wasn’t good in many regards.”
The Panthers, according to league sources, were interested in Watson before the quarterback’s legal issues. He has 22 active lawsuits filed against him with allegations of sexual assault or sexually inappropriate behavior during massage sessions.
League sources said the Panthers aren’t currently pursuing Watson, with the Texans asking for at least three first-round picks for the former Clemson star.
Rhule reiterated his focus is on getting Darnold ready for Atlanta next week.
“We’re not winning right now,” he said. “It’s going to take all of us. He just needs a lot of help from a lot of guys right now that he’s not getting. I see the good moments, too. We’re going to keep coaching him.”