KANSAS CITY — On Saturday, Feb. 2, Patrick Mahomes will walk across the Fox Theater stage in Atlanta and accept the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player Award. It will be the first time since Aaron Rodgers won the award four years ago that the recipient will be in attendance for the presentation, because the past three years, the winner of the award has played in the Super Bowl the following day.
But Mahomes sat on the bench Sunday night and watched reigning MVP Tom Brady convert three third-and-10s in overtime on his way to booking a spot in his ninth Super Bowl, relegating the Chiefs’ second-year quarterback to making decisions about playing in this week’s Pro Bowl and what suit to wear in Atlanta.
“It’s something I’ll look back on for my entire career and use it as something that I can find ways to win these games when I’m in them,” Mahomes said after the 37–31 loss in the AFC Conference Championship Game.
Andy Reid said he only needed two hands to count the combined number of points the Chiefs lost by this season. In truth, he needs four—Kansas City lost five games by a total of 20 points this year. A team that entered Sunday night without a single member having played in a conference championship game now has that experience. (And you could argue lacking that hurt them when the Chiefs were in a 14–0 hole to start the game.) Yes, their season is over, but they were a Dee Ford offside call away from flying into Atlanta this weekend.
The arrow is pointing up for everything Chiefs, and especially everything Mahomes.
This weekend Mahomes is likely to go to Orlando for Pro Bowl festivities. On Thursday he should participate in the one-minute accuracy drill of the skills competition against the other quarterbacks and then compete in Sunday’s exhibition. The following week he’ll be in Atlanta for the awards, and then he’ll have his first offseason as a sports superstar.
This means less time to play golf. When he put his clubs up before training camp, Mahomes was shooting in the low-to-mid 80s and narrowly losing to his father on the course. Time on the links will soon make way for commercials and photoshoots, something his agent, Leigh Steinberg, has strategically kept him from until now. Since Mahomes has established himself as a legitimate top-tier quarterback in the league, you can expect to start seeing him on more national endorsements, according to a Kansas City Star report.
Come training camp, Reid should have a trove of new offensive plays to install. Mahomes is known for his eidetic memory inside the building as he is for his no-look throws outside the building. Last summer when it seemed he was throwing an interception in each training camp practice, the Chiefs explained it as Mahomes working through the playoff and seeing what worked and what didn’t.
“I saw him continue to grow during training camp. And every week since then I thought he continued to better his game, which is a great foundation for him,” Reid said Monday. “His work ethic and his love for the game, his leadership, all of those things, I thought continued to grow. That’ll drive him and gives us a great opportunity to be a productive football team.”
But teams will eventually catch up to Mahomes, right? Isn’t that the inevitable next step in this offensive revolution across a league known for being cyclical?
There are now 18 games on tape of Mahomes in Reid’s offense. He showed he could be thrown off balance—at least initially—by giving him unscouted looks like the Patriots and Ravens did in the regular season. And the Patriots baffled the Chiefs early Sunday night with great man coverage and routine blitzes while managing to double-team Tyreek Hill and handle Travis Kelce. Of course, not every team has the talent, discipline or scheme to do that.
But there’s also an incredible amount of pressure on Mahomes that the 23-year-old has never dealt with before. His 5,097 passing yards and 50 passing touchdowns are very much the main reasons he will be the youngest MVP in 35 years, but he also sustained level of elite play for all 18 games.
You could argue that Mahomes’s next bad game will be his first.
“I think we all expect it every week now,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said after the divisional round victory. “I mentioned earlier in the year, that first couple of games, we thought, is this an outlier? Is it going to last? But he literally has done it every week.”
Hunt and the Chiefs aren’t the only ones who expect it every week—the NFL does, too. The points explosion this year has helped re-establish the NFL as king. Look no further than Sunday night’s ratings: CBS averaged 53.9 million viewers for the overtime AFC tilt. It was the most-watched TV event since last year’s Super Bowl and was the second-most watched AFC title game since 1978.
Everything is in front of young Mahomes, and the league is better for it.
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