September 24, 2018 - 10:32 AM

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws under pressure in the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS

Two 49ers defenders converged fast on Patrick Mahomes early in the fourth quarter of the Chiefs’ 38-27 victory Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, a moment that might make you feel a few sensations at once.
For instance, you could be hyperventilating in anticipation of what ridiculous Houdini routine is about to come from Mahomes … and somehow simultaneously be holding your breath that no harm looms for this precious phenomenon.
That’s a dynamic that his torrid start for a long-tortured franchise can’t help but feed.
Which is why any time he’s sacked or gets smacked running the ball, you might wince or grit your teeth in ways you perhaps never have before since few players have ever seemed this crucial to the Chiefs’ future.
In this case, Mahomes did well to get the ball away incomplete downfield. Far more significantly, and averting a collective community panic attack, he managed to sidestep enough that the brunt of the impending collision was 49er-on-49er — leaving Solomon Thomas crumpled where Mahomes might have lay.
Mahomes already has demonstrated that he’s not brittle, taking plenty of harsh hits and bouncing up. But he’s also not indestructible, and right now his continued health seems to be the main X-factor in what the Chiefs can do with a 3-0 start.
As if it needed to be reinforced, the fine line between whims of fortune was reiterated a few minutes later when San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo sustained what the 49ers fear is a torn ACL as he fought for yards instead of sliding or running out of bounds and got clobbered — hard but clean — by Steven Nelson.
So the prime directive now is simple for the Chiefs, who never have had a home-grown quarterback the likes of Mahomes, 23. (After adding three more touchdown passes Sunday, he has thrown an NFL-record 13 TD passes in Weeks 1-3 — just two fewer than Alex Smith threw in the entire 2016 season.)
Nothing against backup Chad Henne but … by any means necessary, Mahomes — and Chiefs fans in the process — must be kept healthy.
Because we’ve already seen enough to know he is a ticket to change everything. Especially for a franchise that hasn’t been to the Super Bowl in nearly half a century, hasn’t won more than one playoff game in a single postseason in 25-plus years and holds some kind of unofficial playoff record for most excruciating exits since then.
“He is our offense right now,” center Mitch Morse said, then sort of catching himself and adding, “That’s a lot of pressure to say … (but) everything starts with that guy. To have continued success, we’ve got to keep him healthy.”
And it’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get him. Which otherwise helpless opponents no doubt are and will be in ways both legal and shady — like Reuben Foster throwing himself headlong onto a sliding Mahomes in the second quarter.
Foster got 15 yards for unnecessary roughness, but he also got an emphatic comeuppance from Chiefs linemen rumbling to the scene to send a message meant both for him and opponents ahead, for that matter.
“You don’t do that (stuff) — excuse my language …,” said guard Cam Erving, who promptly barged into the proceedings. “At the end of the day, it’s just about a mindset. You can’t let people think that that’s OK. Other teams see that on film, and (then) they try to use those types of things to get at you.
“That’s not how it’s going to happen, man.”
Said Morse, the next enforcer into the scrum, “You punk our quarterback, we don’t take too it too kindly.”
Added tackle Eric Fisher: “We don’t have the ability to throw the ball 70 yards down the field, but we do have the ability to set a tempo up front and have an attitude up front.”
The other part of this, of course, is not losing composure in the process with what surely will be at least some goading ahead. Coach Andy Reid was right when he offered a measured response about the linemen standing up for Mahomes.
“It’s like sweet and sour pork: Some of it is good and some of it is not so good,” said Reid, a former offensive lineman. “You want them there to protect their quarterback, and you understand that. They love the kid.
“On the other hand, you don’t want penalties. You have to be smart with it. They seem to be smart and still get their point across not to mess with him.”
But Reid and Mahomes have to be smart with this, too.
All well and good that Mahomes converted a fourth-and-1 early by keeping it on an option run. But it sure appeared that a pitch to Kareem Hunt might have gone for more, and maybe with a zillion plays in his arsenal Reid doesn’t really need ones that tempt fate.
Football being football, though, and Mahomes being Mahomes, though, you can only do so much.
Part of the exhilaration of the Mahomes experience is that the combination of his nimble mind and rocket arm means a broken play is just an excuse to create, as he reminded on the jaw-dropping 4-yard touchdown pass to Chris Conley, and that no play is over until it’s absolutely over.
The magic in extending those plays is self-evident, and it’s a key part of what separates him from most mortals. But just as inherent is the risk that can come with it for a generational, transformative force who, in fact, is mortal.
You can’t encase him in bubble wrap, of course — though with his arm he’d probably still be able to zing it.
And what will be, will be.
But the Chiefs can do their part to help you just exhale and watch it unfold if they avoid putting him at unnecessary risk and keep sending the hands-off message to the would-be spoilers of something special.

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