Gruden praises Mahomes before Chiefs-Raiders game
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jon Gruden knows he sometimes went over the top in his praise of quarterbacks in his old job as an analyst at ESPN.
It seemed like any time a quarterback went to “Gruden’s QB Camp” or was picked in the draft, Gruden was always full of compliments. The praise for Kansas City’s second-year star Patrick Mahomes is on an even different level.
“His overall skill set is sickening. It really is,” Gruden said. “He’s double-jointed. He can throw the ball from any platform possible. Running to his left, fading backward. He can get out of trouble. I compliment everybody, I’ve been accused of that, but this guy has off-the-chart arm talent. Skill level is unbelievable.
“He has a playing style that reminds me of (Brett) Favre. He’s a young Favre. I think that’s why Andy Reid went and got him. He won’t quit on any play. He makes a lot of plays when there’s nothing there. I don’t have time to talk about him anymore.”
Gruden now must devise a plan to slow Mahomes when his Oakland Raiders (2-9) host the Chiefs (9-2) on Sunday in what appears to be a major mismatch.
Led by Mahomes’ 37 touchdown passes — the third most ever through 11 games — the Chiefs have been a nearly unstoppable force on offense. Coach Andy Reid’s squad ranks second in the NFL with 404 points and is on pace to become the first team since at least 1960 to average more than 7.0 yards per play.
But everything hasn’t been perfect for Mahomes, who committed five turnovers in Kansas City’s last game, a 54-51 loss to the Rams on Nov. 19.
“Every experience, bad or good, you have to learn from,” Mahomes said. “You take the positives. We had a lot of successful plays and successful things happen in that game, but you have to find ways to win them in the end.”
Here are some other things to watch:
EB’S BACK, MAYBE
Chiefs safety Eric Berry returned to the practice field this week for the first time since the early weeks of training camp, when he became sidelined by a heel injury. But considering Berry has not played at all since August, it is unlikely he will be available for Kansas City’s trip to Oakland.
“It’s a great thing to see him back healthy,” Reid said. “This is killing him to watch. He loves to play. It tears him up not to be out there, but at the same time we have to do it smart.”
FAST START, SLOW FINISH
One thing the Raiders have done well this year is start games fast. Their 34 points on the opening drive rank fifth best in the NFL this season. What’s happened after that has been the problem. Oakland has the third-worst offense the rest of the game, averaging just 1.32 points per drive after that.
Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones was the AFC’s defensive player of the month, another line to a resume that could land him a big contract extension this offseason. Jones has nine sacks this season, including at least one each of the past seven weeks. He had a pair of sacks against the Cardinals and the Rams prior to the bye week, and he had a season-high three tackles for loss in Los Angeles.
Oakland was burned last week by a poorly placed punt by rookie Johnny Townsend that led to a 70-yard touchdown return by Baltimore’s Cyrus Jones. Townsend, a fifth-round pick, has struggled this year, ranking 30th out of 32 qualifying punters in net average (37.7 yards), last in gross average (43.5 yards), and last in percentage of punts downed inside the 20-yard line (18.4 percent). That could be an issue against Tyreek Hill, who leads the NFL with four punt return TDs since entering the league in 2016.
“We have to do a better job than we did last week,” Gruden said. “The one punt return we’ve given up, we didn’t hit our landmark. We gave them a low hanging punt that gave him a two-way go, and that’s hard to defend. If we do that against this guy, we’ll have very little chance to win this game. This guy is really unique. Tyreek Hill, he’s a unique skill set. You have to limit his opportunities every way you can.”
The relationship between Gruden and Reid goes back decades to when they spent three years together as offensive assistants on Mike Holmgren’s staff in Green Bay from 1992-94. That’s where the two really started to build the foundation of the offenses they’d eventually run for years as successful head coaches in the NFL.
“We were both young and we were able to learn a ton from a great head coach,” Reid recalled. “Jon and I spent a lot of time together, along with Steve Mariucci, we were the youngest guys on the staff. We all kind of bonded and did our thing. We did a lot of the go-fer work, which we loved. Great learning experience and great foundation to build on.”
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report