Fourth down, a yard to go, down three points, with the rules of overtime hanging over the head of every player on the field. All the toils of the season, all of the injuries, all of the success came down to this one yard.
The Kansas City Chiefs walked up to the line of scrimmage, Travis Kelce ran a short route to the side of the field where Patrick Mahomes rolled out, but Kelce was covered. So, Mahomes took off and got 8 yards with his legs for a first down, part of the Chiefs' march down the field toward the end zone that felt more inevitable with every single game that he plays.
Nine plays later, Mahomes tossed a short pass to Mecole Hardman for six points for a 25-22 Chiefs Super Bowl win against the San Francisco 49ers and the third championship ring and Super Bowl MVP for Mahomes in the past four years.
It’s clear to anyone with eyes: at just 28 years old, Mahomes has established himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history with plenty of time to add more to what he has. Anyone can go on the Wikipedia page for Mahomes and count the accolades that he has picked up over his six years as a starter, but watching him play only builds the sense of undeniable greatness, crescendoing into the most artful assassin the NFL currently has.
Like all gold jacket-caliber quarterbacks, Mahomes has an uncanny ability to make the right play in the right moments. There’s no better example than that fourth-down play that ignited the final drive of the game.
“I knew before the play that it’s more of a man designed play where [Travis] Kelce kind of comes from behind the line of scrimmage,” Mahomes explained, “And I told Rashee [Rice], ‘Maybe if you can’t set the little rub, if you can kind of set up open’. And with them being so focused on that, it opened right open for me to run, and I knew I had to get a yard so I actually got down on that one and we were able to get that first down and keep the drive going.”
That drive was the culmination of a battle-tested playoff run for the Chiefs. They beat the Miami Dolphins at home in sub-zero temperature, went on the road to take down the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens, and then snatched this Super Bowl win from the 49ers. According to Aaron Schatz and his DVOA metric, the Chiefs faced the toughest postseason run of all time toward a Super Bowl. They did this while playing musical chairs all season before figuring out a clean rotation that worked for the postseason. They did this while dealing with some terrible losses during the regular season against inferior teams. And ultimately, they did this because they have Patrick Mahomes.
Everyone saw how flawed this Chiefs team was during the regular season — and they still won the damn Super Bowl. What happens if they go out and add a big name wide receiver in the draft or free agency? Does the rest of the AFC cry? Laugh? Call the mob and kidnap Mahomes?
Even Sunday, largely in the first half, it was impossible for the Chiefs to get anything going. Yet they figured it out and still won. Mahomes and Kelce caught fire in the second half and the Chiefs got back to looking like the damn Chiefs. This is an unflappable, young quarterback who now has extensive experience in the biggest moments the league has to offer.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who is going to come back and keep coaching the best quarterback in football, was effusive in his praise of Mahomes.
“I mean, there’s no façade there. He comes to work every day, humble, wanting to be great,” Reid said. “He challenges the guys around him to be great every play and never flinches. You drop the ball, we’ll get the next one. Or, listen, I need you in this spot right here. It’s not like chewing them out or any of that bit and likewise with the penalties. Let’s keep our hands tighter. Let’s not grab. That’s the way he operates. A pleasure to coach. Absolute pleasure to coach.”
Through all the success, Mahomes still speaks with a level head as he increasingly grows into the NFL’s version of Darth Vader.
“I mean, I’m gonna celebrate tonight. I’m gonna celebrate at the parade. And then I’m gonna do whatever I can to be back in this game next year and try to go for that three-peat,” Mahomes said. "So, it’s an ongoing thing in the NFL, I think Tom [Brady] said it best — once you win that championship and you have those parades and you get those rings, you’re not the champion anymore. You have to come back with that same mentality, and I learned from guys like that that have been the greatest of all time at the top of the level and so that’s my mindset, I’m gonna celebrate with my guys because of how we’ve done this, but then we’re gonna work our way to get back to this game next year.”
Four Super Bowl appearances, three wins and Mahomes hasn’t even hit his 29th birthday. Buckle in, there’s a good chance the best version of Mahomes hasn’t existed in the NFL yet. The Chiefs will have work to do to continue this dynastic run, a damn near impossibility with the amount of parity legislated into the league, but as running back Isiah Pacheco said after the game, “It’s time to PARTY!” And we'll know who'll be leading the festivities.