The expectations for Patrick Mahomes have been driven to an unrealistic level or, at least, the expectations would be unrealistic if they had not been surpassed by the standards.
The Chiefs are celebrating, again, another AFC championship and another Super Bowl for a franchise that is re-shaping old lessons about how difficult these accomplishments would be.
The Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills 38-24 at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, with Mahomes dismissing the quarterback some had been rating above him. Now they will play in their second consecutive Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady — suddenly the league’s only quarterback with unquestionably better career credentials than Mahomes.
At least so far.
This is the greatest run of success in the more than half-century history of a franchise that for years got better from its fans than it gave in return. If this is payback, it is loud and big and feels a little like we’re watching the beginning of a historic run of success.
This group has been together for years now, with enough talent and confidence and nerve that Mahomes said the word dynasty before his first snap as QB1.
The steps have been bold and steady — the franchise’s first AFC Championship Game in 25 years in Mahomes’ first season as starter, its first Super Bowl in 50 years in his second, and now what they have come to call their Run It Back season in his third.
Dynasties require more than two championships, and these Chiefs are still sitting on one, but it does seem fitting that Mahomes is attempting this step against Brady — who will play in his 10th Super Bowl, chasing his seventh championship.
Brady’s first Super Bowl came when Mahomes was 6 years old, which means that Brady has been playing in Super Bowls for so long that Mahomes’ parents may not have let him stay up late enough to watch the first.
Then again, it’s also possible Mahomes wasn’t interested — maybe there was a good cartoon on or something.
This win had a little of so many different traits that have come to define this group. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was unconverable. Receiver Tyreek Hill was breathtaking, Mahomes magical, and defensive lineman Chris Jones wrecked the Bills’ offensive line.
They were sometimes galactically impressive (239 yards and three touchdowns on three possessions in the second quarter).
They were also sometimes in their own way (defensive backs Juan Thornhill and Charvarius Ward dropped interceptions, Hill dropped a deep pass and Mecole Hardman muffed a punt).
One of the lessons of watching Mahomes these past three seasons is that the impressive almost always matters more than the imperfections, in part because all football teams have imperfections — and only one has Mahomes and these weapons.
The Chiefs are now 44-9 in his starts, including 6-1 in the regular season. Brady is, of course, the only quarterback to end one of his seasons as the Chiefs’ starter.
We’ll hear and talk plenty of that night — the comeback, the interception that didn’t count, the penalty that did, and Brady seeking out Mahomes in a private room after — but this team has a way of making you want to look forward, not back.
They are a rare collection of stars without selfishness, a group of friends who sacrificed specific contract benefits they were in line to negotiate, including salaries, to stay together.
They have changed the narrative of Andy Reid’s career from the best coach to have never won a Super Bowl to the coach of the next potential dynasty.
They have changed the narrative of their franchise from the team that always found dark comedy endings in the playoffs to the one that always seems to meet the moments that matter most.
Their play has been a welcomed reprieve through the pandemic, and now they will play in the final game of the strangest season in NFL history.
The league and its teams have faced challenges and setbacks, just like all of us, but here we are approaching the last moments of what can only be described as a success. No NFL games were canceled and the season will conclude with a five-star Super Bowl matchup, with vaccinated healthcare workers watching for free.
How many times in the last 10 months would that have seemed impossible?
So, here we go, homestretch, this remarkable team with the league’s best record and a potential second consecutive championship with just two more weeks together.
They will play in what will presumably be the most watched Super Bowl in some time, two legendary quarterbacks on opposite ends of their careers.
The greatest stretch of success in franchise history now has its most anticipated moment.