Hobbled Mahomes gilds legend with latest Super Bowl magic act | Super Bowl LVII

Now imagine if he had two good ankles. Patrick Mahomes hopped and hobbled to the sideline at the end of the first half, unable or at least unwilling to put any weight on his right leg after Eagles linebacker TJ Edwards had dragged him down by it. He showed no such struggle two quarters later, as he accelerated away from the league’s best pass rushers and into the open field on the 26-yard run that set his team up to win Super Bowl LVII.

This is what the great ones do, putting their troubles to one side and their teams on their backs in the moments that matter. Mahomes aspires to be the greatest. “That’s what he wants to do, that’s how he goes about his business,” said Andy Reid afterward. “The great quarterbacks make everyone around them better, including the head coach. He’s done a heck of a job.”

The last sentence almost felt like an understatement but that was Reid’s point too, as he stressed the player’s humility. When Mahomes arrived for his press conference immediately afterward, his focus was all on the collective: team-mates who challenged each other to push harder, rookies who stepped up to the occasion.

Allow us, then, to say it for him: Mahomes is one of the most brilliant quarterbacks ever to play this game, and there are some who would already call him the best of all time. Plenty might scorn the latter suggestion, observing that he still only has two Super Bowl wins to Tom Brady’s seven, but the truth is that comparing a complete career with an ongoing one is pointless in any case. As Mahomes put it a few days ago: “Ask me when I’m like 38 years old.”

Yet this was another night when he did something that nobody else could, becoming the first player ever to win the Super Bowl in the same season as leading the NFL in passing yards. Ask Brady how tough that combo is to pull off. None of his seven titles arrived in the four seasons when he outgunned his peers.

It is one of those statistics that seems surprising at first – why should a team with the most prolific quarterback not be the best? – but really isn’t. It does not matter who you believe the greatest of all time is, was or will be, no player will ever exist who can carry the show all on their own.

There are moments, though, when Mahomes will make you think he can: a human tornado whipping around so fast in the middle of the pocket that the league’s best pass rush wound up scattered across the field here like debris. The Eagles had 70 sacks during the regular season, 15 more than any other team in the NFL, and eight more in the postseason. On Sunday they could not even get one.

Patrick Mahomes
Patrick Mahomes made a number of crucial scrambles during the second half of Sunday’s game. Photograph: Sean M Haffey/Getty Images

When his team needed leadership, Mahomes provided it, responding to a Philadelphia touchdown on the opening drive by taking his team the length of the field in eight plays to tie things back up. After limping out of the first half with his Chiefs down by 10 points, he made sure he was back on his feet and first out of the tunnel when the time came to resume.

As he roared from the winners’ podium at the end of the game: “I told y’all this week there’s nothing that will keep me off that football field.”

Mahomes said there were no pain-killing injections during the interval, only physio work and athletic tape. Whatever it was seemed to work. He had a 14-yard run on the first drive of the third quarter, as the Chiefs opened with a touchdown that trimmed the deficit to three.

His second-half performance was close to flawless, completing 13 out of 14 passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns, on top of those eye-catching carries. Still, he was not really out there on his own. Isiah Pacheco also ran the ball effectively and Reid’s staff set the Eagles up to fail with play calls that built off one another, using pre-snap motions to create overloads then adding a fresh wrinkle every time. Scoring passes went to Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney with no defender anywhere close.

Mahomes might not even have been in a position to make the push for victory without big plays from Kansas City’s defense and special teams: a fumble recovered and returned 36 yards for a touchdown by Nick Butler in the first half and a punt return back 65 yards by Toney in the second, the longest in Super Bowl history. But even that might be part of the point.

There were times in this game when Philadelphia’s offense looked more potent than Kansas City’s, but the good work was undermined by critical mistakes. Hurts’s fumble was inexcusable: the ball falling loose from his hand without even being hit, and on the second play of the next drive he risked turning a setback into a crisis as he lobbed a pass right into double coverage downfield.

Before the game, Mahomes had spoken about lessons learned from playing on so many big stages already in his career: five AFC championship games and two previous Super Bowls in five seasons as starting quarterback for the Chiefs. The most important thing, he said, “is just going out there and playing like it’s another game”.

Mahomes did exactly that in Glendale, keeping his cool even after a frustrating first half. Instead of forcing something too hard and making a mistake that could lose his team the game, he hung around long enough to win.

That is the real secret to long-term success, the one that Brady embodied better than anyone. The fact that Mahomes sees it, already, at 27 years old, might be the biggest reason to think he really could get to seven Super Bowl wins of his own.

For now he has two, and an MVP award to accompany each one. Tradition dictates that the prize-winner gets a trip to Disney World. Mahomes said he did that last time so would have to check out Disney Land this time instead. “Hopefully they make some more parks,” Mahomes laughed, “so I can go around and do a world tour”.

A light-hearted line from an athlete who had not even been given enough space to take his pads off yet. Underpinned, though, with a warning: Mahomes is barely getting started yet.

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