KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs rookie Patrick Mahomes stood at his locker following his team’s 29-13 AFC West-clinching victory over the Miami Dolphins as the backup to quarterback Alex Smith, but when he takes the practice field on Wednesday preparing for the Denver Broncos he might be serving a one-week internship as the No. 1 quarterback.
Head coach Andy Reid declined to tip his hand whether he would rest key starters next week against the Broncos. The Chiefs remain locked in as the No. 4 playoff seed, and the game has no playoff implications.
“We’ll get through Christmas and then we’ll get on with that,” Reid said.
But Mahomes knows Reid’s history. When his teams enter Week 17 with a game having no playoff impact, Reid often chooses to rest key players. If the rookie gets the call to make his NFL debut, he says he’s ready.
“I think so,” Mahomes said. “Just really been working all year, learning from Alex, learning from the coaches and just trying to make sure I was ready every single week for worst-case scenarios. Going into next week, I’ll be ready and I’ll keep preparing like I’ve been doing all season.”
Mahomes spent training camp and the preseason getting the occasional reps with the first-team offense. During the regular season, however, he worked exclusively with the scout team, only taking mental reps with the first team standing behind Smith.
“I don’t get any snaps with the ones,” Mahomes said. “Alex gets those. I take the majority of scout reps and then I get mental reps. I stand behind Alex and do the drops and do those things to make sure I’m keeping my mind on what the first team is doing.”
But Mahomes feels he learned much watching Smith. He spent 15 games watching Smith prepare. He also watched how the veteran in front of him battled adversity during the team’s offensive slump.
“Just my knowledge of the game I feel like has taken tremendous leaps,” Mahomes said.
“Just having a full season getting to watch Alex have a successful year and watch how he studies and watch how he game plans and do those things, I feel like it’s helped my game a ton.”
Smith said Mahomes handled well the delicate balance between serving as scout team quarterback while preparing to play in case of disaster. But until Mahomes again faces a live defense, it’s difficult to measure his progress.
“I think on the mental side he’s obviously watching and mentally observing and mental reps and things like that,” Smith said. “But throughout the week, limited reps. He’s running the look team and obviously then trying to prepare as much as he can, he has to be ready. He hasn’t been in live bullets though since camp, those practices aren’t like that. So in that sense it’s been a while.”
If Reid taps Mahomes for the start, he gets an entire week to work as the starter. That could pay dividends for Mahomes down the road.
“It’ll definitely help just to get more and more reps,” Mahomes said. “But for me it’s all about coming every single week no matter what week and just preparing like if you were the starter and get those reps mentally or physically.”
Ever the competitor, Mahomes would love to get back on the field. But his top priority rests with playing his part to help the Chiefs advance in the playoffs this year.
“Definitely as a competitor you want to get out there and play,” Mahomes said. “It would always be awesome to get an experience out there, but for me it’s just about coming in and grinding every single week and doing whatever I can to help the team.”
Smith said he’s confident that if Mahomes plays next week he will quickly rediscover his rhythm.
“I’ve said this all along, he’s a pretty natural player,” Smith said. “If he has to he’ll bounce back quick.”