HomeSportsIs Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes on a Tom Brady-like trajectory?

Is Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes on a Tom Brady-like trajectory?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday night was legacy stuff for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, now a two-time Super Bowl champion (with two fourth-quarter comebacks!) and a two-time MVP before his 28th birthday. The breathtaking, superstar quarterback is on a Mount Rushmore track, and what he did in Super Bowl LVII means we need to start looking for the chisels.

The details are for the ages. The Chiefs were being pushed around by the Philadelphia Eagles — a dominant NFC champion determined to prove it had been the league’s best team all along. Deep, explosive, dominant on both lines and led by an ascending star quarterback, the Eagles led by 10 at halftime and six after the third quarter. Mahomes’ final play of the first half ended with him aggravating his month-old ankle injury, limping off the field and slamming his helmet on the ground in frustration. Things looked bleak, to say the least.

But somewhere in the middle of a prolonged Super Bowl halftime, things got better. Mahomes came out of the locker room and led a touchdown drive to cut the lead to three. He kept going, throwing a pair of short touchdown passes on cool Andy Reid play designs to take the lead with 9:22 left. And after the Eagles scored their own touchdown and 2-point conversion to tie it up, Mahomes led the game-winning field goal drive.

Final score: Chiefs 38, Eagles 35.

History will remember the Super Bowl heroics. But when you think about this season, what it was supposed to be for the Chiefs and Mahomes’ role in making it so much more, you realize this victory was painstaking months in the making.

Flash back with me, if you will, to early August. I stood on a sweltering practice field in St. Joseph, Missouri, talking to Mahomes about what the offense was going to look like without receiver Tyreek Hill, who had been traded. Mahomes was excited about it — in part, he said, because the new arrangement gave him the opportunity to make himself a better player.

“It’s helping me grow as a quarterback,” Mahomes told me that day. “If that first big shot we design isn’t there, I have to get the ball out of my hands and move the chains. So being more positive — still having the big play, taking what’s there and moving the chains. Just get through my reads the way it’s called and get to the right guy — not necessarily just look for a matchup on every play.”

That’s where the real stuff happens — where good turns into great. Not wrapped around a Rihanna concert with the whole world watching in mid-February, but on the sweaty practice fields of August, where the cheers don’t matter nearly as much as the work.

“It’s great for him as a professional in his career going forward,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told me that day. “He has the attitude where he wants to rip your heart out. So when teams are giving you that opportunity to do that, he’s going to take advantage of it, as Tyreek was. So it’s great that he’s able to now go back and see and study all the shell coverage that he got and how to gang up on that. It’ll be great for his package and his learning.”

I was standing there thinking, “How many people are there out there who even think Mahomes needs to improve?” But the fact is it doesn’t matter, because Mahomes wants to improve, always, and that’s why he’s on not just a Mount Rushmore track, but a Tom Brady track.

Yes, I realize he’s five Super Bowl titles behind Brady and that’s an ocean of Super Bowl titles that he might not come close to crossing. This isn’t about comparing those two players right now. It’s about looking at what made Brady great and thinking that Mahomes has some of that same stuff inside him.

The group with which he won Super Bowl LVII is much different from the group with which he won Super Bowl LIV — a new offensive line, all new wide receivers, a seventh-round rookie at running back and youth all over the defense. After the Chiefs traded Hill, they signed a bunch of wide receivers with experience but none with Hill’s explosiveness or star power. Mahomes made a point of gathering the new guys together and throwing with them long before camp began. Taking it upon himself to break in the group to keep the run going, that’s Brady-type stuff.

Remember how Brady always did team-friendly contracts so the Patriots could retain the flexibility to build around him and add pieces when and where necessary? Look at Mahomes’ deal. He’s got nine years left on it, and while the salary numbers are huge, the structure gives the Chiefs all kinds of flexibility. His current projected cap number for 2023 is $49.3 million, which would be the second highest in the league if they made no changes to the contract. But the contract’s length and structure make it easy to convert roster bonus money into signing bonus money and drop that cap number by as much as $31 million. Mahomes did the Chiefs all kinds of favors when he agreed to that deal three offseasons ago, and it’ll keep paying off.

Add in the number of rookies and young players who contributed to this latest Chiefs run — Trent McDuffie, Isiah Pacheco, guys like Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore who haven’t been in the NFL long yet have star potential — and Kansas City is set up to keep this going. The central reason is Mahomes, who won three postseason games on a bad ankle and with a beaten-up group of receivers. He is a magician — a wondrous talent with the arm, the legs and the mind to dominate the league for years to come. And while Sunday impacts the way history will view him, it’s the stuff we learned about him last summer that makes it obvious why the Chiefs were in this game in the first place and why they aren’t likely going away anytime soon.

The Chiefs have won two of the past four Super Bowls and played in another. That’s dynasty stuff, folks. But what this year taught us is this: Once the confetti is swept up, the parade is over and the trophy case is rearranged to accommodate the new ones, you can bet the first question Patrick Mahomes will ask himself is what he has to do to get back to the Super Bowl next year.

That’s what makes greatness. And greatness is what we’re witnessing.

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