BALTIMORE – As a lengthy conversation about the NFL wound down recently, pioneer Marlin Briscoe suddenly changed topics. When a Black man who broke a major barrier at quarterback has additional wisdom to impart, it’s wise to just listen.
Although Briscoe revels in watching all of today’s superstar Black quarterbacks, he felt compelled to make something known about Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs: He’s improving.
“Yeah, I know, sounds crazy, right?” Briscoe said on the other end of the phone late last week, his sentence punctuated with a robust laugh. “The guy has already won a MVP [award], a Super Bowl and a [Super Bowl] MVP. And he’s still so young.
“But when you watch him, when you see the things he does [while] running that offense, running that team, you can see it’s different than even then [last season]. I’m telling you, watch out, because he’s going to a different place.”
For the rest of the NFL, scarier words have never been spoken.
And after Mahomes shined again in the Chiefs’ 34-20 dismantling of the Baltimore Ravens on ESPN Monday Night Football, Briscoe may be onto something.
In the most anticipated matchup of the nascent season, the Ravens hosted the Super Bowl champion Chiefs in what was widely viewed as a potential AFC title game preview. Only one team and one quarterback, however, appeared to be in playoff form.
“He’s an extremely elite quarterback,” Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said of Mahomes. “His command of their offense, how well that whole team executes for him, and just his ability alone … he knows how to make the hard throws.”
From the start Monday, Mahomes floored the accelerator, throwing three touchdown passes and running for another as Kansas City took a 27-10 halftime lead. It was part of another master class performance: Overall, Mahomes had only 11 incompletions among 42 attempts, 385 passing yards and five total touchdowns (four passing).
“They [didn’t] give that guy a half a billion dollars for no reason,” said Ravens defensive tackle Calais Campbell, referring to the record-setting 10-year contract Mahomes signed in July that could be worth as much as $503 million. “He’s an incredible talent. He just made play after play. I know who we are, and what we’re capable of, and he was able to go out there and do some great things against us.”
NFL fans have come to expect the sensational as routine from Mahomes. Count Briscoe among them.
The first Black quarterback in the old American Football League, which merged with the National Football League in 1970, Briscoe shattered the glass ceiling that existed in both leagues. He takes pride in helping to open doors for this generation of franchise Black signal-callers, including Mahomes, Lamar Jackson of the Ravens (more on him in a bit), Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans, Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys and Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals.
Since Mahomes became Kansas City’s starter in 2018, Briscoe has closely studied the former Texas Tech passer.
“Right away, you saw that the guy is complete,” Briscoe said. “You saw the arm, the athleticism. You’ve got to have that.
“But you’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to have what you need to put it all together, and he definitely has that. So when you watched him that first season, you thought to yourself, ‘Man. This guy is good. He’s really good. But he can get a whole lot better.’ ”
Which brings us to this season.
Mahomes – the highest-paid player in NFL history – is the youngest to have both a Super Bowl title and a league MVP award. Clearly, he occupies the throne. That established, Briscoe has noticed improvements, albeit subtle, that could help to extend Mahomes’ reign for a long, long time.
“When a quarterback really understands what a defense is doing, what a defense is trying to do, it puts him in a great position to [counter that],” Briscoe said. “You watch him now, you can see he’s comfortable in everything. It’s the total command that he has. That makes a big difference.”
Mahomes’ counterpart Monday hopes to get there, too.
Sharp and strong-armed, Jackson is an electrifying runner. But last season’s MVP — and only the second player chosen in a unanimous vote by the Associated Press, equaling a feat first accomplished by Tom Brady in 2010 — has much work ahead in an effort to master the dropback passing game.
Here’s what also came into sharper focus Monday: The Ravens still must prove they’re capable of being productive passing downfield, especially when trying to rally from big deficits. Jackson completed only 15 of 28 passes for 97 yards with one touchdown. The Ravens’ longest passing play covered only 19 yards. Against the Chiefs and Mahomes, Jackson is 0-3.
“Our kryptonite,” Jackson said.
With Mahomes at the controls, the Chiefs, obviously, have no such concerns about downfield passing. Or any type of passing, for that matter.
“Every year, he’s going to add something,” Briscoe said. “A little bit here and a little bit there. It may be things that only quarterbacks notice, but he will. And it’s going to make a difference. It’s going to keep making him better. Just you watch.”
In the NFL, all eyes are on Mahomes. And if Briscoe is correct, the league hasn’t seen anything yet.