Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs have been looking -- and waiting -- for a wide receiver to emerge as a legitimate contributor and threat.
Heading into the 13th week of the season, Rashee Rice might well have broken out of the bunch.
Rice is coming off the best game of his rookie campaign, and as important as any statistical success has become "Patrick friendly." That's the term Chiefs head coach Andy Reid used to describe Rice on Monday in regard to the chemistry he's developed with quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Reid detailed just what it means to be Mahomes kindly on Wednesday.
"Getting better at understanding how to play against these crazy zones that these defenses throw at you and getting into space where you're available," Reid said on Wednesday, via team transcript. "It's not always a way that's drawn up on a piece of paper, you've got to have a feel, and so when I say that, I'm saying he's got a feel, and he's building in all those different defenses and kind of seeing that and putting that together. There'll keep being challenges this year, this will be a big challenge for him [against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night], this team here, but he's getting better every week at that."
Rice was downright neighborly with Mahomes in Week 12 against the Las Vegas Raiders, turning in season bests of 10 targets, eight receptions and 107 yards, while also hauling in his fifth touchdown catch of the season.
It was the first time all season that a Chiefs wide receiver had more than five receptions or 100 yards in a game.
His five TDs are tied with tight end Travis Kelce for the team high. Kelce has become a future Hall of Famer thanks to his ability to connect with Mahomes, creating and improvising on the run no matter what defenses do to thwart the Chiefs and their golden-armed QB.
For Mahomes, who was asked what "Patrick friendly" meant, it's about putting in the time just as much as the production.
"How you work, I think that's the biggest thing," Mahomes told reporters on Wednesday. "If guys continue to work and continue to practice, and I get a feel for how they run routes and a feel for how they're seeing stuff on the football field, it just makes my job easier. Guys have done that throughout my career, and [Rice] has done a great job of that in Year 1, which doesn't happen a lot of times with receivers. The goal for him now is to keep working, keep getting better, don't be satisfied with where he's at and hopefully get him more bigger games as his career goes on."
While Rice's performance against the Raiders rightly jumps out, his connection with Mahomes extends beyond just the latest game.
When targeting Rice this season, Mahomes has completed 79.2% of his throws, averaged 9.6 yards an attempt, thrown five TDs and zero interceptions, per NFL Research. Mahomes boasts a 138.0 passer rating when targeting Rice -- second-highest among QB-WR tandems, per Next Gen Stats (minimum 50 targets).
Despite the Chiefs winning a Super Bowl last season, their fans and pundits have still been waiting for a prototypical WR1 to step forward to complement Kelce and replace Tyreek Hill, who was traded to the Miami Dolphins two offseasons ago.
Rice hasn't done that yet -- not even close. But the numbers don't lie when it comes to progress being made. And though many would likely disagree, history suggests Rice has been a quick study.
He's the first Chiefs rookie wideout with 100 receiving yards in a game since Dwayne Bowe all the way back in 2007.
Rice is on the right track. Just ask Mahomes.
"There are little things here and there we might not be on the same page, but once we talk about it on the sideline, he doesn't make that mistake again," said Mahomes when asked to dissect how Rice is adjusting to zone coverage. "That's why you see he's getting better and better throughout the season. It's one thing to be able to beat man coverage when you come into the NFL because that's played everywhere, but the zones are so much more complex than college. Sometimes they have to recognize it on the fly, so it's just about getting better and better throughout the season."