MINNEAPOLIS — There’s only one team in the NFL that Patrick Mahomes has yet to beat.
The Minnesota Vikings, it figures, are the only one he’s never faced.
Matching up with the two-time NFL MVP and his defending champion Kansas City Chiefs is hardly a recipe for maintaining the momentum generated last week by their vulnerable defense, but the Vikings of course don’t get to choose their schedule.
What players with any pride would want it any other way? It’s time for the team that won 13 games and the NFC North last season to show it can still be a factor in 2023 and keep those long-frustrated fans from obsessing over next year’s draft position.
Playing the Chiefs (3-1) ought to be as accurate of a measuring stick as the Vikings (1-3) could find for the first weekend in October.
“You want to play against the best,” Vikings safety Harrison Smith said, “and these guys certainly have been that in recent history.”
With two Super Bowl titles in his first five seasons as the starter, all those statistical accomplishments and his unique blend of fearlessness and improvisation that has gone a long way toward redefining quarterback play for a new generation, Mahomes doesn’t have much left to accomplish on the field.
Defeating the Vikings to complete the checklist of 31 other teams would be an impressive feat, considering half of the league only appears on the schedule every four years in the NFL’s formula for interconference competition.
“I just want to win every week,” said Mahomes, who is 67-17 in the regular season and 11-3 in the playoffs as a starter. “It’s not necessarily beating this team because I haven’t played them. It’s going in with the mentality to do what I need to win the game.”
When the Chiefs beat the Vikings in 2019, Matt Moore was behind center while Mahomes recovered from a dislocated kneecap. Though Mahomes has lost to Indianapolis in his only two regular-season matchups, he and the Chiefs beat the Colts in his first career start in the playoffs.
“Right now, we’re just all focused on trying to get things right,” coach Andy Reid said, “but it is an amazing stat for him for sure.”
The Chiefs are favored by 5½ points, according to FanDuel Sportsbook odds, but even with a defense that ranks just 21st in the league in passing yards allowed the Vikings might well be catching their opponent at the right time in what’s sure to be a raucous U.S. Bank Stadium.
“I have to put us in better positions and make better decisions so guys can go out there and make plays for me,” Mahomes said.
PICKING HIS SPOTS
Mahomes isn’t feared for his speed, but his ability to use his feet has still been a useful tool in Kansas City’s offense.
He showed that in last season’s playoffs, when his scramble set up the winning field goal against Cincinnati in the AFC championship game and again last week when a 25-yard run on third-and-22 kept alive the Chiefs’ final drive to seal a 23-20 victory over the Jets.
“He’s got a good feel for the coverage, who is dropping out of there and the time element that is involved with that,” Reid said, “and he’s smart when he does it in certain situations. He knows he can do it, and other times it’s not going to be available.”
HELP ON DEFENSE
The Chiefs hope to have linebacker Nick Bolton (ankle), who is responsible for setting the defense, and cornerback Jaylen Watson (shoulder) back from injuries this week.
Bolton’s absence from the past two games has been noticeable, and missing Watson has minimized the depth in the secondary. The Chiefs could use their full complement of defensive backs to deal with Vikings superstar Justin Jefferson.
“It’s hard to stop him play after play,” safety Mike Edwards said. “If he gets a 5-yard catch, he can turn 5 yards into 60. We have to stop the explosive gains, and we’ll be good.”
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is apparently not too preoccupied with Taylor Swift to mentor his young teammates.
Wide receiver Rashee Rice singled out the All-Pro this week for helping him learn how to identify defenses, including ways to escape the line of scrimmage against man-to-man coverage and where the soft spots should be in zones.
“He’s always pulling me aside, during games, during practices,” said Rice, a rookie from SMU who was drafted in the second round. “We get a lot of good looks out here.”
Vikings center Garrett Bradbury, one of only seven players remaining who played against the Chiefs in 2019, is on track to return from a back injury that knocked him out of the season opener.
With guards Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram leaving room for improvement, the Vikings have also begun to work newcomer Dalton Risner into the mix during practice. This would seem to be the right time for Risner to at least rotate in or take over as a starter.
“When you add a player like Dalton in-season, you want to give him an opportunity,” coach Kevin O’Connell said.