Patrick Mahomes was sensational in his return from a knee injury that had kept him out of action for Kansas City’s previous two games. Mahomes completed 36 of the 50 passes that he threw for 446 passing yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions on the road against the Tennessee Titans. But despite his excellent performance, the Chiefs fell to 6-4 with a 35-32 loss.
Does Kansas City play better when Patrick Mahomes is out? Are the Chiefs victims of the “Ewing Theory”? It’s a tiny sample size, but it’s worth a look.
What is the Ewing Theory?
Sports journalist Bill Simmons, writing for ESPN at the time, released a column titled “Ewing Theory 101”. In it, he described how a friend of his had observed that the Georgetown Hoyas and New York Knicks both inexplicably played better without Patrick Ewing than they did with him, despite the fact that he was their best player.
There have been a number of examples of this phenomenon occurring throughout sports history, but sports fans need to look no further than this year’s World Series winners, the Washington Nationals. After failing to win anything with Bryce Harper as their best player for seven seasons, Harper’s departure paved the way for the first World Series in franchise history.
There are a number of factors that could help explain the “Ewing Theory”. One is that when players know that they have a star player to bail them out, they don’t have to try as hard. Another is that the media is counting the team out, as if to say the whole team is made up of a bunch of bums besides the star player; this motivates the remaining players to work harder.
Patrick Mahomes goes down in Denver
The Chiefs entered their game against the Denver Broncos in Week 7 on the heels of back-to-back losses, and if not for Patrick Mahomes leading the team on a heroic game-winning drive in the closing moments of a 34-30 win over the Detroit Lions, it would have been three straight losses. Kansas City’s defense had allowed 27 points per game over the team’s last four games.
On the very first drive of the game against Denver, the Chiefs defense allowed a touchdown, but stopped a two-point conversion attempt to trail 6-0 out of the gate. Patrick Mahomes immediately responded with a touchdown drive to take a 7-6 lead. After a defensive stop, Mahomes led the team on another scoring drive, this time for a field goal to give the Chiefs a 10-6 lead.
In his third possession of the game, Mahomes was marching towards another score when head coach Andy Reid called a quarterback sneak on 4th-and-1 at the Denver 5-yard-line. Patrick Mahomes gained two yards on the play for a first down, but injured his knee in the process. He was taken out of the game early in the second quarter and would not return.
How did Kansas City respond?
Backup quarterback Matt Moore entered the game after Mahomes’ injury and stalled out at the goal line. Kansas City settled for a field goal to go up 13-6.
The Chiefs defense stepped up on the very next Denver drive to force a fumble and a scoop and score for a touchdown to go up 20-6. The team would go on to win 30-6; a defense that had been torched for 27 points per game over the last four games didn’t allow a single point after Mahomes’ exit.
While Mahomes was out, Kansas City played a competitive game against the Green Bay Packers in a 31-24 loss that was tied in the fourth quarter. In the Chiefs’ next game, they pulled off a 26-23 upset over the Minnesota Vikings, who entered that game on a four-game winning streak.
All told, the Chiefs are 2-1 in the last three games that Matt Moore has finished and 0-3 in the last three that Patrick Mahomes has finished. Are the Chiefs a better team with the reigning NFL MVP out of the lineup? Of course not. But they’d better start playing like he’s not in the lineup again if they hope to achieve their preseason goal of winning the Super Bowl.