Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid lead Chiefs to second straight Super Bowl title
LAS VEGAS—On Friday, at AFC Champ Kansas City’s practice in nearby Henderson, Nev., Andy Reid invited Michael Vick, his former QB, to practice to watch his current one, Patrick Mahomes. And Mahomes was cooking.
On the last play of Mahomes’ first series, on third-and-seven, he threw a crosser to Travis Kelce for a walk-in TD. And on his third series, he rolled out just a few steps in front of Vick and Reid and, on the move, sidearmed a bullet, probably 25 yards in the air, to a tiny window into the hands of tight end Noah Gray.
“Who makes that throw!” Vick exclaimed. As Mahomes jogged past, back to the huddle, Vick said to him: “That’s real! That’s real!”
That night, Reid and the coaches were watching the practice tape. He noted they’d missed a blitz pickup, forcing Mahomes to move. “And he just slung it. Perfect. Right on target, sidearm, maybe 30 yards,” Reid said, then incredulously: “And we actually get used to this?”
It was an absolutely ridiculous throw, almost enough to make Vick jump in the air. And as the coaches watched the tape, one said, “I’ll never get used to this.”
On Sunday night, Mahomes did it again. A great player like Mahomes can have games when he stumbles around, gets pressured by Nick Bosa 10 times (10!), throws an uncharacteristically lamebrain interception and scores six points in the first 40 minutes. And he still has it in him, against an oppressive defense, to finish touchdown-field goal-field goal-touchdown, and go 8-for-8 on the Super Bowl-winning drive, and win his third Super Bowl MVP. Kansas City 25, (heartbroken) San Francisco 22. Overtime.
I don’t know how you could watch Super Bowl LVIII and not know for sure that the game has its certain heir to Thomas Edward Brady. What Brady was to the first 20 years of this century, Mahomes has every chance to be in the next 20. At 28, and just a third of the way through his career (good health willing), Mahomes in so many ways is Brady II.
“He makes the difficult look easy,” Reid told me in his Allegiant Stadium office post-game, “at the highest possible level in the whole world. There’s only 32 in the whole world, and he’s the special of the special. I watched Tom Brady turn the keys over to him which was cool. Tom said, ‘Hey, this is your league now, man.’ Patrick’s humble, he’s competitive, he’s a great teammate, good father. He does it the right way. It’s great for young guys to see. It’s not just God-given. It’s what you do with what God gives you. Every day he comes in the huddle, he goes, ‘Let’s be great today.’ Every day. You know he means it.”
He meant it Sunday night. And the 49ers just gave him the ball too much. Patrick Mahomes with 13 possessions: deadly.
A sports team is always its best when the best players are the best leaders. Derek Jeter with the Yankees, for instance. Michael Jordan with the Bulls. Tom Brady with the Patriots. Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce with Kansas City.
I attended Kansas City practices last week as the Pro Football Writers pool reporter, watching and writing a short, vanilla report of what went on that day at practice. I’d done this a few times but never saw KC, and I wanted to witness Mahomes at work. That was impressive enough. But Kelce paced the field like a captive tiger when he wasn’t in. He yelled at the offense that third down has to be a mentality—there has to be a drive to convert every one. He yelled a few other things that shan’t be repeated here, but this guy was Mr. Intense, all week. I have a mental picture of Kelce sprinting 40 yards, in jersey and shorts, legs like powerful pistons, running all-out even when he was five yards clear of his closest pursuer. Kelce ran like he was trying to steal second in a tie game in the seventh game of the World Series.
Players like Mahomes and Kelce realize the game’s never over, and they realize they want the ball in their hands when there’s a play to be made. Two cases in point:
1. Kelce angrily jostled Reid on the sideline early in this game, and it seemed to stun Reid. “He came out of nowhere,” Reid told me post-game. “But that’s him. He’s wound up so tight. He says, ‘Don’t count me out! I’m good! I can do this!’ I love that intensity. It radiates.”
2. KC had a do-or-die fourth-and-one call in overtime, down 22-19. Make the yard, game continues. Get stuffed, the Niners are World Champions. Mahomes had three options, the third being to keep it and make something happen. That’s what he did. It reminded me of the great quarterback in high school who says, Just gimme the ball and I’ll figure a way to make a first down. Reid said no, Mahomes actually made the right read, and an eight-yard burst behind right tackle resulted.
This was a fascinating game, for many reasons. I’ll start with San Francisco. The other day, at Kansas City practice, CBS’ Tony Romo was on hand to scout KC. We got to talking about Brock Purdy. Romo likes him a lot, but he did say: “It’s hard to know how a guy responds to playing in the Super Bowl until he plays in one. Lots of times in Super Bowls, right at kickoff, players try to get some saliva in their mouths, and it’s not there.”
Purdy had his saliva, apparently. In a one-minute span late in the first quarter, he threw a pass to Chris Conley, 32 yards in the air, per Next Gen Stats, for a gain of 18. A 19-yard strike to Ray-Ray McCloud traveled 29.4 yards—and both were absolute strikes. Call Purdy a game manager, a game warden, I don’t care. He went toe-to-toe with the great Mahomes for five quarters, didn’t turn it over (Mahomes threw a pick and fumbled twice) and acquitted himself very, very well.
Weird overtime game too, because the rules in the playoffs have changed. Now, regardless of what the first team does with the ball, the second team gets a possession. If it’s still tied after two possessions, it continues in sudden death. Next score win.
San Francisco won the OT toss and elected to receive. Surprising, but Kyle Shanahan explained why. “We just wanted the ball third,” he said. “If both teams matched and scored, we want to be the ones that had the chance to [win on the third possession].”
How cruelly ironic it is that Shanahan has been on the losing end of both Super Bowl overtime games now. As Atlanta’s offensive coordinator seven years ago, he saw Tom Brady overcome a 28-3 Falcons lead to win that game. And here, Mahomes overcame a 10-point San Francisco lead with 32 minutes to go to win this one. Brady and Mahomes. Shanahan now has been tormented by both, in regulation and overtime, in the playoffs and the regular season.
But this game should not fall in the category of “Games Kyle Shanahan messed up.” Because he didn’t. He called a shocking and beautiful backward pass to Tennessee high-school quarterback Jauan Jennings, who threw a strike back across the field to Christian McCaffrey for a TD. It’s not often an offensive coach can stun Kansas City and brilliant defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, but that’s how it looked here.
No, the Niners did not lose this game so much as Kansas City won it. On the last series of the NFL season, Mahomes was 8-of-8 and got his team to the Niners’ three-yard line with six seconds left in the first OT period.
This is what I think is crazy: Last season, to beat Philadelphia, Mahomes threw consecutive late touchdowns off the same jet motion/reverse jet motion and for reasons no one knows, the Philly defense didn’t cover either Kadarius Toney on the first or Skyy Moore on the second. Nuts.
So here came Mecole Hardman—whose KC career ended when he wasn’t re-signed last year, and whose Jets career ended when he was traded back to Kansas City for a bag of footballs in October. Reid called the play into Mahomes’ helmet and Mahomes said to the huddle: “Tiger 12, Tom & Jerry right, Gun trips, right bunch, F shuttle.” That last part was the Corn Dog motion from last Super Bowl—speed in, speed out. Hardman ran the precise jet motion, right to left, into the formation, and then quickly turned around to catch the game-winner. This year, instead of colling the play Corn Dog, Reid called it Tom and Jerry. (Reasons unknown and unexplained.) “We built Corn Dog saying, ‘Well for sure they’ll cover Corn Dog because we called it twice. They’ve seen it.’” Nope. Hardman wasn’t wide open, but he was open. Really open. And KC had its third Super Bowl in five years.
In the locker room after the game, it seemed like every player and a good number of the coaches (not Reid; he doesn’t smoke anything) were celebrating with $105 Cohiba Robustos. The joy in the room couldn’t be masked by the acrid fumes.
Reid thought back to the embarrassing physical beatdown the Raiders gave his team on Christmas Day. And he reached out to Antonio Pierce, the Raiders’ coach, this week to thank him for it.
“I texted him,” Reid said. “I just said, Hey, beautiful facility, first of all. And I appreciate you kicking our tail because you taught us a lesson. You get complacent in this business, the margin between winning and losing is tiny. You better step up. There’s a time and a place for these players that have been here before. You know what it takes. If you’re the veteran that’s dropping the ball or you’re the veteran getting the penalties, you better figure it out. Figure it out quick. This season’s gonna go down.”
But it didn’t. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid took the worst offensive team of the six Mahomes has piloted, and they beat the 6, 2 and 1 seeds in the AFC and the 1 seed in the NFL, to win a third world title. This is officially a team for the ages.