Mahomes bests Wilson in battle over which quarterback is the NFL's best today
Patrick Mahomes once again won his personal battle with Lamar Jackson Monday night and seems to have clearly established that at this stage of their careers he is the superior quarterback. But is he the NFL’s best?
A week ago a man who has made a handsome living and built a remarkable ring collection primarily by stopping quarterbacks suggested Russell Wilson is the most underrated passer in pro football and maybe the best.
When Bill Belichick speaks on such matters, one has to listen.
If you compare Wilson’s statistics in 2020 with Mahomes’ numbers his performance has been superior. Wilson has thrown for more yards (925-898), for more touchdowns (14-9), has a superior completion percentage (76.7 to 68.0) and owns a better quarterback rating (139 to 114). In addition, his 14 touchdown passes are the most in NFL history in a three-game stretch to open a season. So if this debate ended with those numbers one could say “case closed,’’ crown Wilson and move on.
But it does not.
A quarterback’s first job is to win, not to pile up stats. Often those are connected and certainly both Wilson and Mahomes have growing numbers behind their names. But in nine years Wilson has gone to only two Super Bowls and lost one. In two years as a starter (this season is not yet over, remember), Mahomes has gone to two straight AFC championship games and won last year’s Super Bowl. In other words, he has won as many Super Bowls in two full seasons as a starter as Wilson has in nearly a decade under center in Seattle.
This is not to imply winning is solely controlled by the quarterback. It is not. But the truth is that a quarterback is judged by his jewelry, and in his two-plus seasons as a starter Mahomes is 27-7 and has won both a league MVP and a Super Bowl MVP. Wilson, unfairly I would argue, has never received an MVP vote.
When one thinks of Mahomes’ closest rival in age and playing experience, Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson, the disparity is even wider. Jackson is an admirable 21-4 as a starter but 0-2 in the playoffs and 0-3 against the Chiefs. After last week’s loss, Jackson dubbed Kansas City “our kryptonite,’’ but he could have said the same about Mahomes, who shredded the Ravens for 385 passing yards, four touchdown passes and a fifth score via his nimble feet.
Jackson, by contrast, threw for only 97 yards.
Jackson’s point about the Chiefs is well taken, however. Against the other 31 NFL teams, he has a completion percentage of 67. Against Kansas City it is 53. Go figure.
Regardless of the reason for Jackson’s struggles both against the Chiefs and in his team’s biggest post-season games, they exist at this point, while Mahomes seems almost bullet proof and able to leap tall defenders, if not quote tall buildings, in a single bound. His play inspired Baltimore defensive coordinator Don “Wink’’ Martindale to opine that the Chiefs “could have paid him a billion (rather than the $500-million contract extension he just got). I’d still think he’s underpaid.’’
Martindale went on to compare Mahomes’ football IQ with that of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, two men revered for their command of the intellectual side of the game. That may be a bit of hyperbole, but there seems little doubt at the moment that Mahomes is the clear leader of this new generation of quarterbacks, which also includes the Bills’ Josh Allen and the Rams’ Jared Goff (forget Mitch Trubisky, as the Bears have and until further notice; Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield; the Giants’ Daniel Jones and the Jets’ Sam Darnold). That may change, but after a two-plus year sample size Mahomes is clearly the best of that young group.
Among the AARP set, Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, one can argue the point, but we are talking there of two different generations of passers. Only Rodgers still seems to have his full athletic powers, although Brees and Brady remain formidable, while Rivers has always been a cut below them. Where Mahomes will ultimately fit in that class will take more years to determine, but if he continues on his present path he’ll be in the conversation with all of them.
So if we eliminate the AARP quarterbacks and accept that Mahomes has thus far exceeded the best work of his fellow young guns that would seem to leave only Wilson to compete with him as the NFL’s best quarterback. Belichick’s praise for Wilson was fulsome a couple of weeks ago, and the Seahawks’ quarterback backed it up, completing 21 of 28 throws while passing for five touchdowns in a 35-30 win over the Sons of Belichick.
The beauty of this argument is Mahomes will go head-to-hoodie with Belichick’s Patriots Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, giving him not only a chance to win his fourth straight game and make the Chiefs the clear favorites as the AFC’s best team but also a chance to match Wilson, who two weeks ago completed 75 percent of his throws against Belichick’s defense. Now Mahomes gets his chance to make his case in a Wilson-Mahomes debate.
Which one is superior? That is difficult to say, and the truth is that if you had either guy under center for your team you’d be ecstatic and extolling his virtues. But for my money it’s Mahomes. When you take the first two teams you’re leading to the conference championship game and the second one to a Super Bowl victory there is little more you can do, especially when you add the fact he’s thrown 13 touchdown passes and only two picks in five playoff games where he’s posted a 4-1 record.
Truth be told, overall he’s put up record-breaking numbers. Through his first 34 games, Mahomes is the first quarterback in NFL history in passing yards (10,310), passing touchdowns (85), and passer rating (109.4), meaning among NFL quarterbacks’ first 34 games no one has ever been better.
That may not make him Johnny Unitas in the end but at the moment it’s enough to convince me he’s a step – or a throw – ahead of not only his fellow young guns but also the more mature Russell Wilson. All we can hope for to continue this debate is a Super Bowl LV showdown in Tampa between Mahomes and Wilson. That would decide not only this year’s champion but, for the time being at least, the present moment’s best quarterback.