Why Patrick Mahomes’ words in Chiefs huddle before game-winning drive were prophetic

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Patrick Mahomes sat near the corner of the Chiefs locker room, using the back of his cubbyhole as the support of a recliner. He had condensed the victory lap, of sorts, that he took a year earlier, in favor of a quiet moment with a drink in his hand.

In front of him, a loud party — blaring music, cigars and champagne — engulfed the place. And that was before Travis Kelce eventually barged through the double doors, and, still in full pads, grabbed a bottle, popped the cork and sprayed the drink through the air.

There, pandemonium.

All the while a relaxed quarterback didn’t budge.

How fitting, right?

The Chiefs are partying like Super Bowl champions once more but probably not once last, after a 25-22 overtime win against the San Francisco 49ers here in Las Vegas. They are the first team in two decades to complete the back-to-back, and, man, we would have considered it so bleak just hours earlier if not for the man sitting near the corner of the room.

This Chiefs season, as a notable change of pace, spotlighted the defense, not as a companion by as a necessity — prompting Mahomes to actually once utter the words, “We can punt.” It brought the bright lights of Kelce and his new relationship. But it ends just the same as it did a year earlier.

With Mahomes.

He produced the game-tying drive in regulation and followed with the game-winning drive in overtime to cap a season in which those were unusually difficult to come by. He is the man left standing not because he overwhelmed the moment but rather because it didn’t overwhelm him.

The overtime featured the Chiefs and 49ers as the guinea pigs for the NFL’s new set of rules. After the 49ers scored to open the overtime, though just a field goal, they returned to ball to Mahomes for the next try like a game of backyard hoops.

Check.

He returned a 13-play, 75-yard reply.

Mate.

We’ll get into the specifics of the drive itself, but just as notable were the words that preceded it.

“Let’s go win this thing,” Mahomes said, as Kelce would recall. Another teammate said those words actually came on the sideline as they awaited the kickoff, but, yeah, you get the idea.

The tone? Calm. Matter-of-fact.

There are a jillion characteristics to underline about Mahomes — though we might be on the brink of running out of ways to describe the accomplishments — but there are few more valuable than this one.

He just doesn’t ever flinch. He forgets that 100 million people are watching at home — and I mean that literally, because that’s what he has trained himself to do based on an interview I had with him last year.

It is laughable, in retrospect, that we actually had conversations wondering if the Chiefs might be better off with the game in the hands of their defense. The solution is Mahomes, always.

Per season.

Per game.

Per play.

The drive put the Chiefs in a fourth-down situation from the jump, and beforehand, they took a timeout. As Mahomes jogged to the sideline, he was greeted by his head coach and offensive coordinator. The latter, Matt Nagy, would call in the official play with a complex set of terms he would rather not share just yet — you know, just in case — but he’ll happily tell you the thought circling through his head.

“Just give the ball,” he said, “to that guy.”

That’s the mistake 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan made, by the way. When he opted to receive the opening kick, he effectively put the last word in the hands of that guy with the game on the line. And when is that ever a good idea?

Well, if you’re his offensive coordinator. The fourth-down call gave Mahomes the option to throw it or tuck it, and the run gained a first down.

That was the play,” Mahomes said.

It felt over long before he connected with Mecole Hardman for the game-winner, which was a nod to the Corn Dog Shuttle play that twice beat the Eagles in last year’s Super Bowl. That sort of action is called Tom & Jerry, a moniker Mahomes came up with because Kelce (Tom) and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Jerry) were the original participants.

But let’s get back to the plays between the standouts — the meat of not just the final drive but the final two. If your reaction to the Chiefs winning another title, particularly in that fashion, is that, well, Mahomes just did it again ...

... you’re right.

But not completely.

The end result was the same. The process? Vastly different.

The team employing Patrick Mahomes spent the season throwing the ball short more frequently than any team in football. After offering Mahomes 1:53 to tie the game in regulation, the 49ers pushed back their secondary, hoping he’d request big chunks to get in scoring territory. Those 100 million sets of eyes and all that — why not win it in style?

Mahomes completed five passes on the possession that sent the game to overtime. The farthest target stood just six yards beyond the sticks.

Mahomes threw eight passes in overtime. Completed all eight. The farthest target stood just five yards downfield.

That’s 13 completions, all of them within six yards of the line of scrimmage. There is no Jet-Chip-Wasp to this story. There is a chunk here, a bit there and a quarterback who does not care one iota about the style points.

“That’s his growth and his maturity,” passing game coordinator Joe Bleymaier said.

The situation alone provides Mahomes a new item atop his football resume. He is not only a three-time Super Bowl champion and a three-time Super Bowl MVP, but he has beaten the game on its most difficult setting — on the setting that 31 other teams have designed to beat him.

He beats schemes patterned to subtract his arm.

He beats the salary-cap restrictions put in place to prevent the kind of dynasty he shepherds.

He wins on the road. He wins as the underdog. And he has now won when few actually expected him to do it.

He’s won as many Super Bowls as he’s lost playoff games. The trophy mantle is catching up to what our eyes have been telling us: There is nobody to have played the quarterback position better.

After the game, after a lap a quarter of the way around the field, he purposefully collapsed on the Chiefs sideline, the confetti falling on his face. After teammates helped him to his feet, he took a couple of steps and then hunched over again, as though in disbelief.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates after leading the Chiefs to back to back Super Bowl championships by defeating the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 in Super Bowl LVIII, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024, in Las Vegas.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) celebrates after leading the Chiefs to back to back Super Bowl championships by defeating the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 in Super Bowl LVIII, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024, in Las Vegas.

He would’ve been the only one. In a suite upstairs, as the overtime drive started, general manager Brett Veach said, “We’re going to win this.” On the 49ers sideline, stars Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel appeared in physical pain as they watched.

They knew. The Chiefs players did too.

No matter how the season has progressed, or the game has progressed, or even the previous drive or two progressed, they know.

Mahomes is coming.

After occupying his seat inside the locker room for about five or 10 minutes, Mahomes darted up to shake hands with a few who asked for a photo. They all congratulated him on the title, and one by one, he didn’t alter his reply.

“We ain’t done yet,” he said.