KANSAS CITY — The first time Tom Brady played in the AFC Championship Game, Patrick Mahomes was 6 years old. Now they’ll be on the Arrowhead Stadium field together as each tries to lead his team to the Super Bowl.
It’s remarkable that Mahomes, 23, made it here in his first season running the Chiefs’ offense. It’s even more remarkable that Brady, 41, and the Patriots are here — again.
Brady is 18 years and one month older than Mahomes. When the two square off on Sunday, it will be the biggest age difference between starting quarterbacks in NFL playoff history.
Making history is nothing new to Brady and the Patriots. They’re playing in the AFC Championship Game for the eighth straight year and 13th time in the last 18 seasons. Brady will try to lead New England to a third straight Super Bowl appearance and fourth in five years.
There’s been plenty of talk about the passing of the torch from Brady to Mahomes. But even Mahomes, who hopes to get the Chiefs to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1969 season, thinks it may be too soon.
“There’s still a long way to go,” he said. “I’m a young guy. He’s done so much in this league and he’s still doing it to this day. He’s going to play for more years to come, so I’m always going to strive to do some of the things that he’s done. He’s not trying to pass the torch anytime soon.”
Once upon a time, Brady was Mahomes. The Patriots made the AFC title game after the 2001 season, Brady’s first time leading the offense after replacing the injured Drew Bledsoe. New England wound up winning the Super Bowl, the Brady storybook career started and it still hasn’t come to an end.
Mahomes marvels at what Brady and New England have accomplished. He said the Patriots “are in the AFC Championship every single year of my entire life pretty much.”
The No. 1-seeded Chiefs, who are hosting the AFC Championship Game for the first time in their history, hope they’re building something sustainable with their collection of dynamic weapons, led by Mahomes.
The second-year quarterback quickly has become the face of the NFL with his uncanny skills of rolling out and literally making any pass for the No. 1- ranked offense in the league. Mahomes has thrown no-look passes, tossed the ball lefty, sidearmed it and rifled it 70 yards to his slew of playmakers: Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Damien Williams, Sammy Watkins and Chris Conley.
Mahomes — whose father, Pat, pitched for the Mets and five other teams in an 11-year major-league career — threw for 5,097 yards and 51 touchdowns. Aside from Mahomes, only Peyton Manning and Brady have thrown at least 50 touchdown passes in a season.
“He’s had really a spectacular season and they just kept it going all year,” Brady said.
“It’s amazing,” Patriots defensive back Jason McCourty said. “You turn the film on, you’ll see him throw with his left hand and you’ll see him roll out to the right and throw the ball back across the middle to the other side of the field, and you’ll just be like, “How does he do it?’ ”
Brady also is amazing, but for different reasons. He still plays with the ultimate fire and at a level most quarterbacks wish they could achieve. He has won five Super Bowls, has appeared in eight and was masterful in the second-seeded Patriots’ win over the Chargers in the divisional round. He completed 34 of 44 passes for 343 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
“I haven’t seen any decline,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who lost Super Bowl XXXIX to Brady and the Patriots when he was coaching the Eagles. “He is as accurate, he sees things better even than he did when he was younger. The aging hasn’t hit him. He’s an amazing guy.”
But Brady continues to hear that he’s slowing down and that the New England dynasty is nearing an end. That could be true, but it won’t really end until Brady retires. Only he knows when that will be, but he’s out to prove he still can win Super Bowls.
“We feel like we have a team that can compete well against anybody,” Brady said. “Hopefully, we can have our best one of the year.’
When the Patriots and Chiefs met in Week 6, the greatness of both quarterbacks and the explosiveness of the two offenses was on display.
New England won, 43-40, on Stephen Gostkowski’s 28-yard field goal as time expired. Mahomes threw for 352 yards and four touchdowns, three to Hill. Brady threw for 340 yards and one touchdown and ran for another.
Football fans can only hope for another game like that. Mahomes, however, would like to see a different ending. He wants nothing more than to beat Brady and the Patriots and continue this terrific season.
“The goal was to win the AFC championship and get to the Super Bowl and win that,” Mahomes said. “To try to do that very early in my career would be a huge thing for me. I am just going to trust in my teammates that we can go out there and play the game we’ve been playing this entire year and try to win a big game on a big stage.”