Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce celebrates his touchdown against the...

Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce celebrates his touchdown against the Jaguars during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff game on Jan. 21 in Kansas City, Mo. Credit: AP/Ed Zurga

PHOENIX — The bitter taste of defeat still lingers for many of the Kansas City players who lost to Tom Brady and Tampa Bay two years ago in the Super Bowl. They’ve been aching to avenge that haunting loss.

“That’s huge motivation for me,” All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce said. “I got a sour taste in my mouth from it all. Still. I’ll probably have that sour taste for the rest of my life. That wasn’t a good showing. It’s still a fire burning in my chest to be able to go out here and get this second one, knowing how bad of a game it was a couple of years ago.”

The time is now for Kelce and Kansas City.

The past two years have been geared toward Sunday’s game against Philadelphia in Super Bowl LVII. It’s Kansas City’s third Super Bowl appearance in four years. KC won it all in Super Bowl LIV, rallying to beat San Francisco.

“The win is amazing,” Patrick Mahomes said. “It’s one of the best moments of your entire life. You take away all the positives from that. But that loss, that stings. That motivates you for years. That’s what it’s done for me. It’s motivated me to be back in this game again.

“I want to make sure that I can have that winning feeling and not that losing one because that losing feeling is one that you’ll never forget.”

As Kelce mentioned, it was a bad performance. Tampa Bay won, 31-9, behind three touchdown passes from Brady. Mahomes, under pressure all night, didn’t throw a single touchdown pass and was picked off twice.

“You learned that you can’t take things for granted,” Mahomes said. “You can’t come to a game and not have every box checked. I thought we did, but obviously we didn’t, and we lost that game. You had to use it as motivation to get back here.”

Kansas City has found other ways of motivating itself on its road to Super Bowl LVII.

Last season, KC lost to Cincinnati at home in the AFC Championship Game.

That fueled the team.

After dynamic playmaker Tyreek Hill was traded to Miami in the offseason, Buffalo became a heavy favorite to win the AFC title this season.

That fueled Kansas City.

KC hosted the AFC Championship Game for the fifth consecutive time two weeks ago, and the opponent again was Cincinnati. Kansas City initially was an underdog because Mahomes was playing on a bum ankle and Joe Burrow was 3-0 against Mahomes.

That was motivating fuel.

Bengals cornerback Mike Hilton called Kansas City’s stadium “Burrowhead” instead of Arrowhead.

More fuel.

And this will only drive Kansas City more: Philadelphia is favored Sunday. This hardly comes as a surprise. The Eagles are a more complete team with an explosive offense and one of the top defenses in the NFL.

The Eagles lost only one game that quarterback Jalen Hurts started, going 16-1, including the playoffs. Philadelphia finished with the third-most sacks in a single season (70) and was dominant in wins over the Giants (38-7) and 49ers (31-7). In the NFC Championship Game, San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy was knocked out with an elbow injury in the first quarter and threw only four passes.

“They talk about who’s the best team statistically all the time. It may be the Eagles,” KC defensive end Frank Clark said. “It may be the Eagles. It may be the Eagles with all the glitz and glamour. They’re the story team this year. We’ve been the story team for five years. When you’re the story team for five years, that’s old news.

“It’s great to see a new team get all the light. I love seeing the pressure on them. Hopefully they can handle it well.”

Kansas City, remarkably, had the top offense in the NFL after dealing Hill, one of the game’s biggest weapons. KC finished first in total offense and scored a league-leading 29.2 points per game with a deep and diverse receiving crew replacing Hill.

Kelce put up some of the biggest numbers of his stellar career. He established personal bests with 110 catches and 12 touchdowns, and his 1,338 receiving yards were the second most of his career.

Free-agent signings JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling helped pick up some of the void that Hill left, and Jerick McKinnon led all NFL running backs with nine touchdown catches.

Mahomes, of course, was the leader, and his incredible season (NFL-record 5,250 passing yards plus 41 touchdown passes) earned him his second MVP honor. It’s more important to him to add a second Super Bowl title, though.

“He works hard to be the best,” coach Andy Reid said. “He tries to help our team be the best. He says every day in practice, in the huddle, ‘Let’s be great.’ He lives that.”

Mahomes has been the catalyst for Kansas City’s run, but the defense needs to have a big performance against Hurts and the Eagles.

Hurts is a dual-threat quarterback who has run for at least 10 touchdowns each of the past two seasons. Philadelphia has two playmakers on the outside in receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith who totaled nearly 2,700 receiving yards. Dallas Goedert is one of the better tight ends in the league. Running back Miles Sanders had a career-high 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns while running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.

“Jalen, he’s been special this year,” KC All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “Very efficient passing the ball, very efficient running the ball, don’t make many turnovers, very smart quarterback, heck of an O-line, heck of a run game. They’re an all-around team when you look at it head to toe.”

If Kansas City wins, there will be talk about this team being a dynasty.

Mahomes knows the history of the league well. The Patriots, 49ers and Steelers each won at least four Super Bowls with one quarterback leading them. Mahomes has said a team has to win more than two to be a dynasty. He’s focused on getting No. 2.

“Having the Lombardi [Trophy], that’s a special feeling,” Mahomes said. “It’s such a hard season with months and days where you’re in the building. To have that trophy at the end makes it all special. I want to make sure we find a way to do it again.”

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