At the Stroupe Athlete Performance Improvement Center, Mahomes did not talk about his MVP, he never mentioned his 50 touchdown passes or 5,000 yards. He just talked about what came next. I wanted to design a low season plan created from a simple goal.
"There is only one goal," Mahomes told Stroupe. "And it's the Super Bowl."
"I was p —– about losing to the Patriots, period," Stroupe said this week in a telephone interview. "That was it. We did not celebrate a special dinner. It was work, man. He has a goal. He feels they have what it takes. He feels they should not have missed last year."
Mahomes has returned to the AFC championship game this season without flashy statistics or praise for 2018, his first season as the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs. He noted that the attention of the NFL was changing elsewhere this fall. A dislocated kneecap set him aside for two games. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson replaced him as a talisman of the NFL's future and will almost certainly snatch his MVP.
But Mahomes can use these playoffs as a reminder of who owns the league. On Sunday afternoon, after his team fought for the first 20 minutes, he lowered the field 24-0 to the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium. Mahomes proceeded to lead seven consecutive touchdown units, five of them with touchdown passes. At the end of the game, Mahomes had thrown for 321 yards and the Chiefs won, 51-31, which led them to a home standoff this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans for a trip to the Super Bowl.
"He knows exactly who he is," Chiefs substitute quarterback Matt Moore said. "He's a unique guy. It's not by chance. He works on that. He's who he is for a reason. That's how he's programmed, man."
Mahomes' offseason job means that Mahomes is not just the same quarterback he was last season, not just the best player in the league. This week could provide a showcase for the plan he drew 11 months ago at the beginning of the offseason, when he began reviewing one of the most statistically amazing years in NFL history and looking for inefficiencies and imperfections.
In the months after Mahomes won the MVP and his team was in a Super Bowl offside penalty, he rebuilt his body for reasons few people knew and bought the reorientation of how his team played. The result, succinctly summarized by the Kansas City offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, has been clear.
"It's definitely better," said Schwartz.
Mahomes approached his offseason improvement along two tracks. The first was to refine his body to become lighter and more durable, a response to the last part of his 2018 season. The teams never solved Mahomes completely, but the strategy in which most defenses came to rest was to press their receivers in the man-to-man coverage and punish him with as many hits as possible.
"With the contacts in the league that we could have, and just seeing what happened in the playoffs, we knew what we had to prepare for," Stroupe said. "The obvious thing was this: your body has to be better able to move in the playoffs."
The blows that Mahomes received at the end of last year affected him, and, later, his weight, in the postseason. Mahomes dealt with ailments in his legs that limited his conditioning during the week. Listed at 225 pounds upon entering the league, Mahomes weighed in the mid-230s when the Chiefs played against the Patriots, which made it less mobile than at the beginning of the season.
"What can happen in the winter if you are in Kansas City and cannot move, and you are practicing, but you are not doing the things you normally do, you can gain weight," Stroupe said. "In the playoffs last year, it was heavier than when he entered. I think we recognize that when they start to press (their receptors) and can't move, that makes it harder."
As Mahomes lost weight this offseason, he also sought greater durability. With Stroupe, Mahomes had always trained to be flexible and stable in unorthodox positions, to emphasize his natural athletic talent. It gave him more options to beat a defense, but as he weathered and gained weight, he lost some of them. "We wanted to preserve their creativity," Stroupe said.
Stroupe bases many of his workouts on the concept of proprioception, which is what allows a person to instinctively understand how his body moves through an environment. When you walk on a beach, you don't focus on the difference of navigating a concrete sidewalk and soft sand; Your body only does all those calculations on its own and reacts the right way.
Stroupe wants its customers, including Mahomes, to achieve advanced proprioception. He wants Mahomes' body to make a linebacker dodge while throwing a side gun pass feel as natural to the underlying systems of his body as, for example, moving from a train platform to a meter. Mahomes can only be so aware of his surroundings because all his focus is on the field, not on what he asks his body to do.
When Mahomes did squats this offseason, he did it from nine different positions. He threw a medicine ball against a wall in 36 different ways. He trained to make his body feel comfortable in awkward positions.
"The more in tune you are with being in different positions and being subject to different stimuli, the more likely you are to be resilient and have a better performance in those situations," Stroupe said. "… It's unique. It's a little different from what most people would see in a training center for a soccer player, especially a quarterback."
It may have helped save his season. At the end of the first half of week 1, three Jacksonville Jaguars crushed Mahomes, and one of them turned around and sprained his ankle at an ugly angle. Mahomes limped, but returned to the game. Stroupe said it would be a mistake to attribute only Mahomes' training regime to injury prevention, adding that he believes the Chiefs have perhaps the best NFL training staff. But his philosophy includes preparing muscles and joints to move and stress them in an unusual way.
Mahomes suffered a more frightening injury in week 7, when the kneecap was dislocated in a quarterback attack against the Denver Broncos. It could have taken months, or even the rest of the season, but the Chiefs' coaches recognized the injury immediately and put it back in its place. "Literally, every second that it takes you to replace that kneecap can be translated in weeks," Stroupe said. "They were so above that."
Mahomes missed only two weeks, a testimony of both the Chiefs 'training staff and Mahomes' condition. Stroupe pointed to a secret weapon in Mahomes' healing capacity: his affinity and his dedication to rest.
"Patrick is the most prolific sleeper in professional sports," Stroupe said. “Sleep 10 hours a night and take naps all day. There isn't even another species that does that, apart from lions, I think. … If sleeping outside in a video game, it would be rated 100 ".
The total result of the Mahomes plan has led to this week, to another opportunity to get to the Super Bowl. Stroupe said the effects of his ankle injury from Week 1 have only completely disappeared. Mahomes said that after the Chiefs' victory on Sunday, he has been moving better in the past two weeks. Against the Texans, he constantly extended the plays and finished as the best runner of the Chiefs, with 53 yards. Stroupe did not disclose the exact weight of Mahomes, "but he is not 235," Stroupe said. "I can tell you that."
Mahomes' main statistics may have fallen, to 4,031 yards and 26 touchdowns, but other indicators suggest a subtle improvement. He cut his interception rate in half. He took around half a sack less per game, even with left tackle Eric Fisher missing eight games per injury. The teammates saw him read the defenses better, his experience allowed him to recognize schemes and coverage faster.
"It is probably not realistic to think that he will do 50 and 5,000 again, anyway," Schwartz said. "I think if you look at his domain of knowing where to go, knowing who to go, doing it correctly, he has improved. And it is a little scary to think that he will continue to improve."
Mahomes statistics have also been deflated by what his team requires of him this season compared to the previous one. The Chiefs reviewed his defense, hired Steve Spagnuolo as coordinator and acquired security Tyrann Mathieu, defensive ends Frank Clark and Alex Okafor, security rookie Juan Thornhill (who is now out of season) and others. Those pieces were mixed at the end of the season and kept six consecutive opponents at 21 or less points.
The defensive improvement, which roughly coincided with Mahomes' return from his knee injury, led Mahomes to adopt a different and more cautious approach. The disastrous first quarter of Sunday, when special teams and defensive errors led to a 24-0 deficit at the beginning of the second quarter, allowed Mahomes to resume its role last season. In response, he destroyed Houston's man-to-man coverage.
"It's just about the flow of the game," said Mahomes. “You have to read how the game is going. We knew we had to score points. That meant more unruly, more opportunities, more shots. "
When necessary, Mahomes can still thrive as he did last season, with pure shock and amazement. You can also, as a product of careful design this offseason, lead an offensive that forges a sophisticated scheme and at the same time covers your own defense. The Titans, trained by former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel and built by former New England talent scout Jon Robinson, deploy many defensive structures to which Mahomes succumbed in an empty first half last season against the Patriots. It will provide adequate final proof of how you reconditioned your game.
Mahomes teammates will follow him enthusiastically. When the Chiefs fell into a deep hole on Sunday, coach Andy Reid turned and saw Mahomes walking along the bench, imploring and encouraging his teammates. "As head coach, you can't ask for anything better than that," Reid said. "He just says:" Hey, listen, we'll be fine. Let's go. I mean, let's not wait until the fourth quarter, let's go. "He did."
After the Chiefs scored, Mahomes ran along the sideline, accelerating the crowd and jumping up and down, with the look of a man who only has one thing in mind.