KANSAS CITY, Mo.
He now is the face of the NFL, the transcendent talent who has captured the imagination of the league and its new generation of quarterbacks, the big-time player who produces the kind of performance on the big stage that will make him an everlasting part of football history.
Patrick Mahomes, your time has come.
The Chiefs quarterback is blessed with a brilliant arm, breathtaking mobility and a champion’s heart, and all three were on display Sunday in his biggest moment in a Chiefs uniform.
A year after walking off the field at Arrowhead Stadium following a disheartening overtime loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, Mahomes led the Chiefs to a berth in the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years.
He threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns and ran for one of the most electrifying touchdowns in postseason history as the Chiefs beat the Tennessee Titans, 35-24, in the AFC title game at Arrowhead.
The Titans vanquished the six-time champion Patriots and top-seeded Ravens in the previous two weeks, both on the road, but Mahomes made certain that the clock on Tennessee’s Cinderella season would strike midnight.
It’s on to Miami for Mahomes and the Chiefs, who will face the resurgent 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. A half-century after the Chiefs won their only Super Bowl title, Mahomes will attempt to add a second one and continue to build his legacy as the NFL’s brightest star.
Brady’s time is near an end at age 42, and Mahomes seems poised to take over as the next great quarterback. He’s only 24, and it feels as if the Chiefs can be a championship contender for years to come.
The passing of the torch from Tom Brady to Mahomes didn’t come last year, but something Brady told the young quarterback after the two met in last year’s AFC title game still resonates.
“The biggest thing Tom said to me was to just stay with the process and keep being who I am,” Mahomes said after beating the Titans. “That’s something that’s important [to hear from] a guy that’s had so much success every single year he’s been in the NFL. He goes out there every single day and he treats it like it’s the most important day. That’s something I’ll have in mind for my entire career.”
Mahomes put together an MVP season in 2018, his first year as a starter, throwing a staggering 50 touchdown passes. He didn’t put up those kinds of numbers this season — he had 26 touchdown passes and missed two games with a knee injury — but he authored a legendary comeback win in the divisional round and came back with another impressive performance to put the Chiefs one step away from winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
A week earlier, he rallied the Chiefs from a 24-0 first-half deficit against the Texans by throwing five touchdown passes and leading seven straight touchdown drives in a 51-31 win.
On Sunday, he confounded the upset-minded Titans with more incredible work through the air and one spectacular effort on the ground.
Tennessee built leads of 10-0 and 17-7, but as he had done the week before, Mahomes stared down the early deficit and brought out his magic act.
After throwing touchdown passes of 8 and 20 yards to Tyreek Hill to get the Chiefs within 17-14, he brought the Chiefs from their 14 to the Titans’ 27 with 23 seconds left before halftime. He called a play that was supposed to be a pass over the middle, but he didn’t like the coverage and noticed that there was plenty of running room to his left.
Mahomes sprinted toward the sideline and initially planned to go out of bounds.
“As I got to the sideline, I saw how much space that we had, because everybody [on defense] was trailing and defending the guys that were downfield,” he said. “I figured I could cut it up and get a couple extra yards.”
What he got instead was a play for the ages.
Mahomes tip-toed down the sideline, keeping his feet in bounds, and then cut to his right. He bowled over two defenders inside the 5-yard line and then bulled his way into the end zone for a 21-17 lead.
“Everybody knows he has an MVP arm,” wide receiver Demarcus Robinson said, “but he showed his MVP legs today.”
Tennessee was effectively done after that play. The Chiefs extended the lead to 35-17 in the fourth quarter before allowing a late touchdown.
“I think with this team, you can see that in every single player, we don’t care if we win 10-7 or we win 35-24,” Mahomes said. “We’re going to go out there and just find a way to win the football game, whatever it takes.”
As long as the Chiefs have Mahomes, they have what it takes.