MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — This was the way it was supposed to end for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. It couldn’t be simple, boring or utterly devoid of suspense. A man who’s built a brilliant legacy in an insanely brief timetable had to be slinging the ball all over the field, with his team clinging to every last bit of hope it could muster and a dominant defense chasing him with malicious intent on the other side. Mahomes has made a living off being magical. His last trick had to be one that would produce the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl win in five decades.
When Super Bowl LIV began, the San Francisco 49ers had the advantage of being the more complete team. When it ended — with the Chiefs claiming a 31-20 victory — it was apparent that having the best player on the field mattered far more in this contest. The 49ers had the better running game, the better defense and plenty of weapons on offense. Kansas City had a quarterback who keeps inventing new ways of mesmerizing fans while reminding us all that he should never be discounted.
The Chiefs’ best chance of winning this game involved Mahomes playing spectacularly. He didn’t do that for all four quarters — he actually threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the final 30 minutes — but he did something far more important: He delivered when it mattered most.
“I just tried to fight,” Mahomes said. “That was the biggest thing. Obviously, the third quarter didn’t go the way I wanted (when he threw the first of his two second-half interceptions). I tried to force some things and had some turnovers. But the guys believed in me and gave me the confidence to keep fighting and we found a way to win in the end.”
It feels like it’s time to stop comparing Mahomes to the legendary quarterbacks who came before him. He was supposed to be Brett Favre when he came into the NFL — largely because of his improvisational talent and super-charged arm — but he’s been far more careful with the football than Favre ever was. He has the aura and intelligence of Joe Montana, but Montana never had physical skills this sick. Tom Brady has six Super Bowl rings, but Mahomes just did something that was very Brady-like: At 24 years and 138 days old, Mahomes became the second-youngest signal-caller ever to win a Super Bowl, passing the future Hall of Famer, who was 46 days older when he won his first (Ben Roethlisberger is the youngest at 23 years, 340 days).
Mahomes used his first full season as a starter to show the world how gifted he was, as he won the league’s Most Valuable Player Award after throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns. He used his second season as the Chiefs’ QB1 to prove how much he’d grown as both a leader and a quarterback. This Super Bowl was further evidence that Mahomes had learned that quick strikes and home-run plays can only take a team so far. The best signal-callers play within themselves, control tempo, recover from their mistakes and ascend when the pressure is most suffocating.
The 49ers would’ve closed out any other team they were beating by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter, as they were in this game. However, no other team has a player like Mahomes, who literally willed the Chiefs back into the lead by scoring 21 unanswered points in the final nine minutes. As Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said, “He’s the most competitive guy I know. He’s going to keep firing regardless of the situation. It’s hard to come up with new things to say about Patrick. He’s just special.”
When asked about his quarterback’s mindset when the team faced that double-digit deficit, tight end Travis Kelce added, “Just make plays. Enough is enough. Let’s put our foot down and go make plays. When he has that look in his eyes, you know you have a warrior going to battle for you. And you just want to be accountable for that guy.”
This game didn’t start with Mahomes looking like the eventual MVP of the contest. The 49ers contained the Chiefs’ vaunted passing attack in the first half, and Kansas City had just 10 points through three and a half quarters. That was before Mahomes, facing a third-and-15 from his own 35-yard line, connected on a 44-yard pass to wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Four plays later, Mahomes hit Kelce for a one-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to 20-17.
The Chiefs’ defense then limited the 49ers to a three-and-out on the next possession and Mahomes capitalized again. This time the key play was a 38-yard pass to wide receiver Sammy Watkins that gave Kansas City the ball on the San Francisco 10-yard line with 3:30 remaining. Three plays after that, Mahomes lofted a pass to running back Damien Williams that turned into a five-yard touchdown. At that point, it became obvious that destiny was something the Chiefs owned.
After all, Kansas City had trailed the Houston Texans by 24 points in a Divisional Round playoff game and wound up winning, 51-31. They fell behind the Tennessee Titans by 10 points in the first half of the AFC Championship Game, only to win that contest 35-24. Deficits simply don’t do much in the way of fazing Mahomes. If anything, they seem to make the game more liberating for him, as if he’s at his best when the degree of difficulty increases.
The way 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wilted in his last opportunity to lead San Francisco on a game-winning or game-tying drive only illuminated how clutch Mahomes can be.
“My mindset is always to play and compete to the very last whistle,” said Mahomes after completing 26 of 42 passes for 286 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. “I just kept competing. I knew I wasn’t in the ideal situation and needed my defense to get stops and they did.”
It’s important to note here that Mahomes’ individual success is emblematic of this entire Chiefs team. When he lost in the AFC Championship Game last year, he listened intently when New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady came into Kansas City’s locker room to offer advice. The most important wisdom Brady conveyed that night was for Mahomes to trust the process. Talent is nice, but faith and commitment meant just as much when it came to winning championships.
That is why perseverance defined Mahomes more than anything this season. He came into this year intent on taking this team to a Super Bowl. He overcame a lingering ankle injury that impacted his mobility and accuracy, along with a dislocated kneecap that cost him two games. He also cared more about doing the little things that most people don’t notice instead of producing the types of highlights most people crave. As head coach Andy Reid said, “It’s not all Patrick — he’d be the first to tell you that. But he’s a good place to start.”
That might be the understatement of the year. The Chiefs knew they had a special talent when they drafted Mahomes three years ago. They realized he was a generational player after his first season as a starter ended with that MVP. Today, Mahomes has vaulted himself into legendary status for two reasons: He’s at his best when circumstances seem to be the worst and, more importantly, he’s clearly just getting started.
Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @JeffriChadiha.
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