Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has fewer game-winning drives (five) in the last three years than Derek Carr (nine), Baker Mayfield (seven), and Mitchell Trubisky (six).
In fact, Mahomes’ go-ahead touchdown pass against the Raiders in the Chiefs' 35-31 win on Sunday Night Football was the first time Mahomes had thrown a game-winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes of regulation in his career.
Despite Mahomes' lack of "game-winning drives," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said this during his press conference after the win over the Raiders:
"I've got Pat Mahomes. Give me a minute and a half and I'm good."
It is hard to describe how “clutch” players are with simple statistics. No one would take Carr, Mayfield or Trubisky over Mahomes with the game on the line, so why does Mahomes have so few game-winning drives to his name? There are a few factors that go into it.
1. The Chiefs are usually not behind in the fourth quarter.
How can Mahomes lead a game-winning drive if the Chiefs aren’t trailing? Even Mahomes, who makes the impossible, possible, can’t do that.
Since 2018, in 46 games including the playoffs, a Mahomes-led Chiefs team has been tied or trailing during the entire fourth quarter only 15 times.
That is ridiculous dominance.
This dominance is shown in the Chiefs' total point differential after the first three quarters of games from the last three years. Since 2018, the Chiefs have the highest point differential in the league with a total point differential of +402 at the end of the third quarter. The next-highest team is the Ravens with a +347 point differential. In stark contrast to this, the Chiefs have a negative point differential in the fourth quarter in the last three years at -14!
There are only three above-.500 teams over the past three seasons with a worse fourth-quarter point differential than the Chiefs: the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Their point differentials through the first three quarters? +101, +125, and +203, respectively. Nowhere near the Chiefs' massive +402.
The fourth quarter rarely matters to the Chiefs because they run up the score in the first three quarters.
2. Mahomes has no control over his defense losing the game.
The 2018 AFC championship game is a great example of how a quarterback can be clutch and still lose.
The Chiefs offense caught fire in the second half of the game and this led to Mahomes and Tom Brady exchanging blows in an instant-classic. After the Chiefs had scored touchdowns on two straight drives, a Rex Burkhead touchdown with 39 seconds to go in regulation put the Patriots up by 3. Even with little time, Mahomes was able to make magic and get the Chiefs in field goal range where Butker sent the game to overtime.
Mahomes never saw the ball again.
Mahomes recorded no comeback, no game-winning drive, and the Chiefs were eliminated. Yet he was outrageously clutch.
The Chiefs have had a few losses like this in Mahomes’ career.
In the other matchup against the Patriots in 2018 the same situation played out when Mahomes and Tyreek Hill hooked up on a long touchdown to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, only to have Tom Brady run the clock and get in field goal range to walk-off the Chiefs.
In Mahomes’ first game back from his knee injury in 2019, he led the Chiefs to a five-point lead with 3:14 left in the game against the Tennessee Titans. The Titans, however, answered with a touchdown of their own scoring with only 23 seconds left on the clock. Mahomes successfully got the Chiefs in field goal range even though he was only given 23 seconds to do so, but the kick was blocked. Mahomes was as clutch as could be, but it still didn’t produce a win.
Mahomes can only control what the offense does. Of the 10 losses the Chiefs have had under Mahomes, four of them came with either the Chiefs surrendering the lead on the opponent's final drive or the offense getting the ball back with an unreasonable amount of time to lead their own comeback. If Mahomes is given the time to win the game, he does.
3. Some of Mahomes’ comebacks are just too quick.
Mahomes sometimes is just too good at comebacks. No other game was as indicative of this than the playoff game against the Houston Texans last year.
Mahomes and the Chiefs were down 24 points early in the game against the Texans. For many teams, that lead is already insurmountable. For the Chiefs, it seemed like a cakewalk, as Mahomes erased the deficit in the second quarter en route to a 51-31 dismantling of the Texans.
When Mahomes leads a comeback like this, but not in the fourth quarter, it’s still "clutch." When a team is down 24 points, regardless of how much time is on the clock, there's almost no room for error. Players know this as well, so the pressure is on early and often in instances like that win-or-go-home game against the Texans. Overcoming deficits like these before the fourth quarter isn’t recorded in any traditional statistics.
4. Advanced stats tell a more complete story.
Even without simple statistics to make the case for Mahomes' late-game heroics, there are some advanced statistics that show Mahomes is the most-clutch quarterback in the league.
Mahomes laps the rest of the league in EPA/play when the Chiefs have a low win-probability. While other quarterbacks, on average, have worse EPA/play when their team has a lower chance of winning (often when playing from behind), Mahomes has his highest efficiency when the Chiefs need it. Remember, EPA/play takes into account interceptions, sacks, and other negative plays from quarterbacks. When most NFL quarterbacks are behind, they force throws and try to make plays they can’t pull off, creating mistakes that dig a deeper hole for their already-trailing team.
Not for Mahomes.
Beyond win probabilities, there is a general situation that happens multiple times every game that players must be clutch in: third down.
Mahomes is, frankly, ridiculous on third down.
Mahomes and the Chiefs are absolutely obliterating the league in dropback EPA/play on third downs. No play better-encapsulates the Chiefs' success on third down than Jet Chip Wasp, the play the Chiefs ran in the Super Bowl on 3rd-and-15 to start the championship-winning comeback. That wasn’t a fluke, as time and time again, Mahomes has shown that he's a demigod on a down that requires players to perform under pressure. Mahomes’ unparalleled throwing angles, exceptional scrambling abilities and supreme mental game all lead to his otherworldly performance on the downs that matter most.
It hasn't been just Mahomes that has performed when the stakes are high. Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, Andy Reid and many members of the Chiefs' offense have contributed and have been "clutch" in their own right over Mahomes' young career. Still, Mahomes is the engine of the offense, and the engine is expected to perform at all times. Mahomes proves he's fit for a Ferrari time and time again.
Considering the breadth of Mahomes’ work so far, it's hard not to think he’s the most-clutch quarterback in the league. When he’s asked to step up in vital moments, he does it almost every time. There's a reason the Chiefs have yet to lose a game by more than one possession with Mahomes. His performances when the Chiefs are down are impressive, bordering on superhuman. He is the best quarterback on third down since entering the league, and the gap isn’t even close.
There is no quarterback in the NFL better when the chips are down than Patrick Mahomes, and the Chiefs and their fans should be thankful such an extraordinarily clutch player is a Chief for life.