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Chiefs have invested heavily in protecting Patrick Mahomes

September 20, 2018

FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2018, file photo, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) plays in an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, in Pittsburgh. The Chiefs have only allowed two sacks this season, tied for the best in the NFL. Part of it is the fact that the offensive line has played well together, most of them for years. Part of it is Mahomes. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — It’s a good thing Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes prefers takeout to dining in these days, because the first-year starter would be recognized in any restaurant in Kansas City.

Not just because of his Mohawk, either.

Mahomes is off to a record-setting start to the season, and he has the Chiefs at 2-0 heading into their home opener Sunday against San Francisco.

And that has just about everyone buzzing, from busboys to restaurant owners, about the possibility of another AFC West title and some postseason success.

“I can only imagine it’s going to be pretty interesting to be Patrick Mahomes around town,” Chiefs center Mitch Morse said with a sly smile.

Morse doesn’t have as much trouble when he dines out, of course. Nor do the rest of the Chiefs’ offensive linemen, even though they’re a big reason Mahomes has had so much success.

A group that returned largely intact from last season, when it helped Kareem Hunt win the NFL rushing title, has proven it can keep Mahomes clean as well.

The line has allowed just two sacks despite going on the road to face the Chargers and Steelers, two fairly salty defenses, and that has translated into offensive numbers that rank near the top of the league.

Most importantly? The Chiefs are averaging 40 points per game.

“I think jelling is a great word,” Morse said. “It’s four years for some of us together, and with offensive line continuity is the biggest thing. The more we play together helps.”

The Chiefs have certainly invested in their offensive line.

Their first draft pick of the Andy Reid era was Eric Fisher, who was selected first overall in 2013 and has played well enough to sign a $63 million, six-year deal.

Morse was a second-round pick in 2015, and right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was a sixth-round flyer who panned out so well he also signed a long-term contract to the tune of $42.36 million over five years.

Kansas City solidified the right tackle position by signing Mitchell Schwartz to a $33 million, five-year deal a couple of years ago, and shored up the only remaining spot on the offensive line when former first-round pick Cam Erving was acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns.

He’s played so well that the Chiefs signed him to a $15.75 million extension last offseason.

It’s easier to tie up money in the offensive line when the quarterback, often the most expensive position on the roster, happens to be on a rookie deal.

But it also shows how much value the Chiefs put in protecting Mahomes, and how much confidence they have in the group they’ve assembled.

“They’ve worked very hard at coming together and working,” Reid said.

“We have a ton of things we can improve on. As defensive coordinators study and see these things, they will throw different wrinkles at you and you have to rise up every week.

“That’s not a simple part of this. In this business it’s not so much about what you did the week before, it’s about what you do today.

“We have to keep answering these different challenges,” Reid said. “We did OK last week, now we will prepare ourselves for this week.”

Indeed, the challenge presented by the Steelers was unique. Their defense tends to disguise blitz packages better than most, and that could have created problems for an inexperienced quarterback.

But beyond keeping Mahomes upright, the offensive also was instrumental in helping him diagnose what the Steelers were doing. It was a true team effort in calling out the blitzes.

Now the challenge is San Francisco, led by sack specialist DeForest Buckner.

“It’s the same type of scheme that the Chargers ran and originated in Seattle. They have a lot of good players,” Mahomes said.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for us, especially being our first home game. We have to stay in process. Keep doing what we do well, keep getting better, fixing our mistakes and hopefully come out with the win.”

Notes: Safety Eric Berry (Achilles tendon) remained out of practice Thursday, making it unlikely he will make his season debut against San Francisco. He’s been out since early in training camp. ... DT Chris Jones returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s workout with a groin injury. ... FS Armani Watts was excused from practice for personal reasons.

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