The old AFC dynasty is over, smashed into bits after two decades of suffocating the hopes of upstarts, the biggest enforcer of New England’s dominance landing in Tampa, where Tom Brady has been reborn with the Buccaneers and taught them how to get to the Super Bowl.
But there has been no breathing room for the other teams that thought they could slip in just as the window closed on the Patriots. For Tennessee and Cleveland and now Buffalo, the opening slammed shut quickly, with Kansas City racing into the void first — one look at Sunday’s big plays to Tyreek Hill is evidence that the Chiefs race into everything — to mount what may be the next NFL superpower. In two weeks, the maker of the old dynasty — Brady with this new team, the Bucs — and the creator of the new one will meet in Super Bowl LV.
It should provide a delicious storyline about a potential passing of the torch from one generation of greatness to the next. Except that Brady’s first season with the Buccaneers gave no indication that he will willingly cede it, making it to his 10th Super Bowl, his first from the NFC. And Patrick Mahomes, in just his third season as the starter, has already seized it anyway.
After all, they are the last two quarterbacks to win the Super Bowl — one in the twilight of his career, the other still much closer to the dawn of his.
“Being able to go up against one of the greatest, if not the greatest quarterback of all time, in his 150th Super Bowl, it’s going to be a great experience for me,” Mahomes said after the game. “To go out there and have a chance to repeat, and I get to do it against the best, it’s something special and I’ll be excited for the opportunity.”
Kansas City’s 38-24 victory over Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game bore all the familiar marks of so many Chiefs games. They fell behind early — the Bills scored the first nine points — and then roared back, forcing a jittery performance from Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen and igniting on offense with the usual panoply of big plays and Mahomes derring-do. After falling into that early hole, the Chiefs scored 38 of the next 44 points, the offense creating one big play after another in a 21-point second quarter. Tyreek Hill had 172 yards receiving on just nine receptions, Travis Kelce had 118 yards and two scores on 13 catches. If there was a concern about the Chiefs this year, it was of the first-world-problems variety: They were not blowing out teams the way they did last season, and they struggled, particularly in the second half of the season, to put teams away after gaining a lead. Rest easy: The Chiefs looked unstoppable again.
“I think everybody knows, on our team at least, they trust that we can score quickly if needed,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. “We needed to do that sooner, I’m telling you that as a coach. But I think everybody has confidence that, if we get behind, we have enough power there to get it right and try to fix whatever problems we’ve had and put points on the board.”
The big plays are how the Chiefs won the Super Bowl last season and how they nearly beat New England to go to the Super Bowl the year before, when the Patriots instead had their final moment with their heel on the necks of the league.
It was obvious even in that overtime loss that the Chiefs and Mahomes were on the rise and the implosion of the Patriots last season merely smoothed a path the Chiefs were already on.
Brady’s departure for the Bucs re-energized him and breathed life into one of the NFL’s moribund franchises.
But Mahomes is atop the NFL now and this game was a perfect example of what opponents are up against. The Chiefs had nine drives in the game. Two came at the end of each half. Of the other seven, five ended with touchdowns and one ended with a field goal. Mahomes had three touchdown passes and completed 29 of 38 pass attempts. The turf toe he suffered last week did not affect his mobility and he was able to scramble outside of the pocket to extend plays as he always does. And now he has two weeks to let the injury heal.
“You’re seeing him grow in front of you,” Reid said. “I’m the old guy that’s seen some guys, and this guy seems to amaze me every game.”
On Nov. 29, the Chiefs unleashed those big plays on the Bucs, defeating them, 27-24. It was the Bucs’ third loss in four games, but they have not lost since, as Brady and the offense have finally gained a comfort level.
The Chiefs have not lost a game that Mahomes played in since the 40-32 setback against the Raiders in Week 5, the only game K.C. dropped all season with Mahomes in the lineup.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach made a point after the game of noting that the players embraced being the hunted this season.
Brady, perhaps better than anybody else in the league, understands that phenomenon, although this year he was largely freed of it.
While Brady can never fly completely under the radar, the Buccaneers often do — and they spent most of the season chasing the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South as they scrambled to become acclimated to Brady without the benefit of offseason work. Tampa Bay seemed to sneak up on the NFC, and for as much fanfare as greeted Brady’s marriage with the Bucs, a Super Bowl run this season seems to have snuck up on the rest of the NFC.
The Chiefs haven’t snuck up on anybody, least of all Brady.
After New England beat Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game two years ago, Brady went into the Chiefs locker room to encourage a crestfallen Mahomes. Brady complimented Mahomes’ play and told him to keep grinding.
After the Buccaneers’ win over the Packers, Bruce Arians explained that one man, Brady, was able to bring the belief to the entire organization that the Bucs could win.
Mahomes brought that to Kansas City, too. At 25, he is 18 years younger than Brady — 18 years for him to catch Brady’s accomplishments. If only Brady would stop adding to them.
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