The Kansas City Chiefs have done it again, and just about everyone agrees they couldn’t have done it without quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Super Bowl LVIII was a contrasting contest between the 49ers, an excellent team with a pretty good quarterback, and the Chiefs, a pretty good team with an otherworldly quarterback.
But, after Mahomes orchestrated another comeback win, led the team to become the first back-to-back champions in 20 years, snared them a third trophy in five years and won his third Super Bowl MVP award, the question has to be asked…
Is Patrick Mahomes the greatest of all time?
Arguments over the GOAT of any sport are difficult and it’s the same in American football.
How do you compare someone like Patrick Mahomes to the leatherheads who played with an actual pigskin?
Well, mercifully, Mahomes elevated himself into rarefied air by steering his team to a 25-22 win in overtime against San Francisco.
After the Chiefs made an error-riddled start that saw them trailing 10-0 until the final seconds of the first half, Mahomes zeroed in come winning time.
He got some help from brilliant plays — like Harrison Butker’s record-breaking 57-yard field goal and a huge error from San Francisco’s punt returners that gifted him the ball in the red zone — but in the fourth quarter and overtime, Mahomes got the job done yet again.
The quarterback led his team in rushing thanks to a 19-yard run in the game-winning overtime drive, and completed 34/46 passes for 333 yards, the most he’s thrown in a Super Bowl.
This was perhaps the most impressive of the three titles, because it came, for the first time, with the Chiefs as underdogs.
This active dynasty came into the post-season as the third seed, beat Miami comfortably in the wildcard play-off, then scraped past second seed Buffalo 27-24, before taking down MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game.
But still wasn’t seen by many as a better team than the 49ers, the first seed from the NFC.
“We all said San Francisco had the better team, but nobody picked them because of Patrick Mahomes,” two-time Super Bowl champion Booger McFarland said after the game.
“He showed us in the game-winning drive, running the football on fourth down, the plays he made, the will he showed and the confidence he gives that team is unreal and it was on display tonight.”
Mahomes is now one of only three players, all quarterbacks, to be named Super Bowl MVP at least three times.
The two players alongside him in that group would be near the top of most people’s GOAT lists, so how does Mahomes compare?
Joe Montana also picked up three Super Bowl MVPs as he led the 49ers to four titles from 1982 to 1990, winning every decider he played in.
It wasn’t quite the era of leather helmets, but still a very different time.
Montana took over from Pittsburgh Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw, who dominated the 1970s, as the presumptive greatest quarterback of all time as his San Francisco sides ran roughshod through the 80s.
Montana and wide receiver Jerry Rice formed one of the deadliest one-two punches in NFL history, with both in the conversation for the best players ever at their positions.
John Taylor was another elite receiving target, while legendary cornerback Ronnie Lott led the defence and they were all coached by Hall of Famer Bill Walsh.
Mahomes simply doesn’t have that sort of support.
Of course every player on one of the 32 NFL rosters is among the best in the world at what they do, but ask anyone who cares and they’ll tell you there’s a Grand Canyon-seized chasm between the quality of Mahomes and the guys he’s throwing to (we’ll get to the one exception later).
“Mecole Hardman scored the winning touchdown. Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught a touchdown,” commentator Chris Berman said derisively after the game.
“These are guys that all year long [we said] ‘oh my goodness, are they ever gonna have anyone that can [catch]?’.”
Mahomes and the Chiefs had an elite wide-out for their first championship back in 2019, but Tyreek Hill left them in 2021 to play for the Miami Dolphins.
He’s done this with an at best average group of receivers, and he’s elevated them to champion status.
Tom Brady was a good passer, but didn’t have the gun-slinging tendencies of a Brett Favre or Peyton Manning, and he damn sure didn’t have the athleticism of even an average quarterback.
But he was as clutch as they come. Nobody led a game-winning drive the way he did, to the point that opposition players spoke openly on the sidelines about leaving too much time on the clock, even after taking the lead late in games.
Brady also won his first Super Bowl in 2002 and his last in 2021.
That is an almost impossible level of longevity to live up to, especially as Brady was famously immobile for basically his entire career.
Brady’s 40-yard dash at the NFL combine is still one of the funniest videos on the internet when you know he went on to be one of the greatest sport stars of the 21st century.
He could not look more average athletically, but that meant he made almost all of his plays with pin-point passing from the pocket, which isn’t as physically taxing as the way Mahomes plays.
The Chiefs playmaker has already had a number of knee and ankle injuries, mostly from going down in twisting tackles after scrambling out of trouble.
He has to throw backhanded flicks, leftie shovels and sidearm bullets to get the ball to places no other quarterback can from positions that look hopeless.
Mahomes’s 66 rushing yards was just four short of the record for a quarterback in a Super Bowl (he has the most all time), and it didn’t even feel special for him.
That sort of physical play for a quarterback, who is targeted by the defence on literally every down, is rarely sustainable for the sort of 20-year career Brady had.
But Mahomes is still only 28 years old. Who knows if he can catch Brady with seven Super Bowl wins, but with three wins from four appearances in his first seven seasons, he’s in a better position to do it than anyone would have expected so soon after Brady handed over the mantle of the game’s pre-eminent play-off performer when he retired two years ago.
An all-around weapon
Aside from a stunning effort with the trophy on the line at 4th and 1 in their first set of downs in overtime, when he burst through the middle of the field to keep the game alive, Mahomes out-thought the 49ers defence to win Super Bowl LVIII.
His effort in Las Vegas was, ironically, perhaps the least risky we’ve seen from him.
Monday’s (AEDT) game was a very Brady-esque performance, happy to kill the Niners with a thousand cuts rather than one big swipe.
He also, like Brady, has one enormous, 87-wearing target he loves.
For Brady, first in New England and then in Tampa Bay, it was Rob Gronkowski.
Widely regarded as the greatest tight end, which is basically an enormous receiver, Brady and Gronk formed a lethal combo and combined for over 9,000 receiving yards — 3,000 more than Brady threw to his favourite wide receiver, Julian Edelman, despite playing together for similar time frames.
Similarly, Mahomes targets Travis Kelce more often than anyone and Kelce, while not quite Gronk, is about as good a facsimile as one can hope for.
They’ve connected for over 7,000 yards and Kelce this season broke Jerry Rice’s record for the most receptions in the play-offs.
Taylor Swift’s boyfriend led the game with nine receptions for 93 yards in the Super Bowl despite only having one for one in the first half, but Mahomes deserves a lot of credit for changing the flow of the game and getting him involved.
In the famously regimented NFL game on the biggest stage, coach Andy Reid trusted his legendary quarterback to feel the flow of the game and take control of the offence, leading to a famous victory.
“Patrick Mahomes came on to the scene in the NFL and was really unlike anything we had seen in a long time with the jaw-dropping run-around oh my gosh plays,” 12-year NFL veteran quarterback Dan Orlovsky said in commentary on ESPN.
“To see the maturation that he’s gone through over the last year or two of managing situations and [deciding] when to and when not to [make certain plays].
“Just being, in many ways, a game manager and finding a way to win games like the Super Bowl instead of the remarkable run-around plays.”
A lack of “game management” is something many athletic quarterbacks are criticised for.
They’re often seen as able to make the flashy athletic play, but not always able to put a team away with safe, winning plays.
That Mahomes can pick or choose how he wants to win is a huge factor in his favour in the GOAT argument.
He can beat you with his arm, his legs and his mind.
It might make him the greatest quarterback in NFL history when all is said and done, but in the intervening years we all have the pleasure of watching a talent unlike any other before him.
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