Opinion: An inevitable force in Chiefs' Super Bowl win, Patrick Mahomes enters elite tier of athletes
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Ask any member of the Kansas City Chiefs when they knew Patrick Mahomes was going to be special, and they’ll all tell you a version of the same story.
It was a throw he made in training camp as a rookie or something he spotted in a film session or something about his demeanor on the sidelines in a particularly tense situation, which are all anecdotes that sound good and may even have an echo of relevance in them. But in sports, you don’t really know until you know.
It’s why these games always draw us in. Nothing that happens is pre-written. There may have been a million moments along the way that foreshadow greatness, but without the moment, we can never be sure. That’s really the most important part.
For so long on Sunday night, it felt as though we’d have to wait a little longer for Mahomes to deliver the moment that so many of his teammates felt was inevitable. It wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world had that been the narrative coming out of a disappointing Super Bowl performance. He’s not even 25 yet. There’s time.
“I feel sorry for him sometimes, being bombarded by the world,” receiver Sammy Watkins said earlier in the week, talking about the crazy-high expectations Mahomes has generated because of how good he’s been in just two years as an NFL starter. “But he signed up for it.”
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As we all saw in Super Bowl LIV, Mahomes has signed up for something even beyond being the third-youngest player in league history to win MVP honors for the game, beyond being an icon of Kansas City, beyond even being the face of the NFL.
The greatest power in all of sports is inevitability. It’s the sense that when Tom Brady has the ball last, everyone in the stadium knows he’s going to score, including the other team. It’s the feeling you got watching Michael Jordan taking the last shot of an NBA Finals game or Tiger Woods standing over a 10-foot putt to win a major. And there’s only one way to get it.
The way Mahomes did against the 49ers.
“We’re never out of a game because we know what we’ve got with Pat,” linebacker Damien Wilson said. “He’s greatness in a bottle.”
Consider that bottle shaken up, uncorked and sprayed all over America. Because there’s no going back now, not after Mahomes dragged his offense out of a world of trouble and scored three touchdowns in five minutes and one second of game time to blow past the 49ers, 31-20.
In a game Mahomes’ team looked absolutely certain to lose midway through the fourth quarter, what we saw in those next few moments will become the context for the rest of his career. The fact is, Mahomes was one play away from losing this game. It’s all he needed to turn it around.
“You know it’s possible because we’ve done it, but you know it’s possible because you’ve got Pat as your quarterback,” fullback Anthony Sherman said. “Are you kidding me? Anything is possible with him.”
The possible, though, was down to its last gasp with 7:13 remaining. The Chiefs were down 10, Mahomes had thrown interceptions on the previous two series and the pass rush of the 49ers was ready to tee off again. It was third-and-15, and if Mahomes couldn’t get a first down right then, the comeback math didn’t really make sense. This was it.
“We were in a bad situation, especially with that pass rush,” Mahomes said. “You knew those guys were going to have their ears pinned back.”
Mahomes needed a little bit of time to execute the play they called, where tight end Travis Kelce serves as a bit of a decoy on a deep crossing route to try to get speedy receiver Tyreek Hill matched up on a safety. From the snap until the time he released the ball, Mahomes had about four seconds, and still the pressure was there as he released it with almost no forward momentum in his throw.
Though the play only counted for 44 yards, the ball traveled about 55 in the air. No matter how long Mahomes plays this game, he may never have a more consequential or impressive throw – not just because of the degree of difficulty, but because of how dramatically it turned everything around.
What was once a lost cause soon became an inevitability, and a game in which Mahomes had generally performed poorly instead became a fourth quarter for the ages. Suddenly, everything the Chiefs had said they knew about Mahomes being that special, generational quarterback was plain for all of us to see.
“The third quarter didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I tried to force some things and got some turnovers and didn’t play to my liking in the third quarter,’ Mahomes said. “But the guys believed in me and gave me confidence and kept fighting and we found ways to win it in the end.”
We know Mahomes has worked his whole life to become a great athlete, but part of what has made him so appealing is how easy it all seems for him. From the improvisational scrambles to the whimsical left-handed throws he’s made from time to time, he often plays quarterback like a pianist with perfect pitch just gliding across the keys.
We don’t really know yet how far Mahomes can climb the ladder, whether he can get past the Elways and Montanas and Bradys and do it year after year. But winning a championship is the first step. Going 10-for-15 in the fourth quarter when you’ve put your team in a 10-point hole is a triple jump. And making the play of your career at the very moment you need it most is exactly what the great ones do.
So welcome to the club, Patrick Mahomes.
“That is the golden child,” Watkins said.
We all know it now.
Follow Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken.
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