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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Patrick Mahomes vs. Deshaun Watson the marquee matchup in NFL opener

Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City looks to pass

Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City looks to pass against the 49ers during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on Feb. 2, 2020 in Miami, Fla.  Credit: Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox

We were transfixed by the Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry for years, a matchup that served as the NFL’s dominant story line for almost the entirety of their careers and provided so many memorable moments along the way.

But with Manning walking off into his football sunset with a second Super Bowl title and Brady now in the twilight of his career in Tampa, we may now be witnessing the birth of a new quarterback competition that could replace Brady-Manning as the league’s next great rivalry.

What better way to start an NFL season than with the compelling matchup of Patrick Mahomes-Deshaun Watson.

The two will face off in Thursday night’s NBC prime time opener in Kansas City, with Super Bowl MVP Mahomes against Watson and the Houston Texans.

“I think they’re the future of the NFL,” Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, an NBC analyst, said Tuesday.

Former Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms, now an NBC analyst, said: “Patrick Mahomes, there’s no doubt he’s the best player in football, and I think he’s going to be up there towards the top of football for a long time. Deshaun Watson isn’t far behind. Easily, both of these guys are top five quarterbacks, and could be the future as far as a Brady-Manning type rivalry.”

Both quarterbacks were recently rewarded with monstrous contract extensions: Mahomes inked a 10-year deal worth a staggering $503 million, and Watson signed a four-year, $156 million contract over the weekend. And now they meet for the first time since Mahomes outdueled Watson in the AFC divisional playoffs in Kansas City. Watson staked the Texans to a 24-0 lead in the first half, but Mahomes came storming back with seven touchdown passes to lead a 51-31 win that helped catapult his team to a Super Bowl win.

Mahomes was the Super Bowl MVP in another comeback thriller, this one a 31-20 win over the 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

“This is the modern-day quarterback,” Simms said of how Mahomes and Watson play the game. “They can beat you with great decisions and surgical passing, but they also can say, Hey, everything’s covered? No big deal, I’ll make an unbelievable throw, or I’ll have a little pressure in the pocket, I’ll buy some extra time back here in the pocket, extend the play and then I’ll make something happen or I’ll just scramble and run, because I can do that as well.”

Brady and Manning performed their magic from the pocket, with the Patriots star leading New England to a record six Super Bowl titles and Manning earning his first Super Bowl with the Colts and then another in Denver after recovering from a career-threatening neck injury. Mahomes and Watson have an entirely different game, using their mobility far more than their more stationary predecessors.

Where precision and forethought have been hallmarks for Brady and Manning, spontaneity and imagination are the underpinnings for Mahomes and Watson.

It’s a defensive matchup nightmare.

“It’s frustrating going against those guys,” said former Chargers and Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, a longtime NBC analyst. “It might be third-and-15, and you see Patrick Mahomes, he might backpedal 10 yards and throw a ball across his body, and all of a sudden, (tight end) Travis Kelce comes up with it for a first down. They demoralize you on those big plays. It might be easy to say keep him in the pocket, but how do you do that? Patience is the key, not giving up the big play and understanding who you’re going against.”

Dungy said any hope of stopping either quarterback lies in pressure.

“You better have a pass rush to deal with those guys,” he said. “If you don’t have great pass rushers that can pressure them and get the ball out of their hands, you’re not going to have a chance. They’re athletic. They do more than just stand in the pocket and make throws. They’re instinctive, they’re both smart guys.”

And entertaining. Oh, so entertaining. Mahomes is a human highlight reel, a guy who can throw a football 70 yards, or make a pass behind his back, or even with his left hand. Watson can escape the pass rush like few others, slipping away from danger and dashing to his right before making a dramatic throw down the field.

There is no better way to welcome the 2020 season than to watch these two men work.


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