The best compliment you can give to Patrick Mahomes—and there are many—is that Sunday did not feel like a miracle. When Mahomes is on the football field, there is the possibility that the next play is going to be the best play you have ever seen. Yet his brilliance—the stadium-shaking, the era-changing passes—seems inevitable. The Chiefs became the first team to erase three double-digit deficits in three playoff games, and Mahomes became the first quarterback to make this feel routine. Chiefs players talked about what Mahomes said to them in their darkest hour on Sunday: The answer was nothing. Because no one was particularly nervous. This isn’t mythmaking; this is common sense.
It’s no accident that the Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl via a fourth-quarter comeback: They have the best passer in the sport, one of the best play-callers in the world, and the fastest team in football. They are built to score quickly. They are built to make you ask yourself what just happened. They are built to take players who are seven minutes from hoisting a Lombardi Trophy and deliver them the worst night of their professional lives. “We were just waiting for our time,” Kansas City fullback Anthony Sherman said. “We’ve been down 24, and it didn’t bother us. We were down 10 two weeks ago, and it didn’t bother us. We were down 10 again tonight, and we just found a way to put it together.”
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins said he never feels down. It helps to believe—the Chiefs did—but it also helps to have Mahomes, who at 24 years old became the third-youngest Super Bowl MVP in league history. Mahomes is elite at playing mistake-free football. He made mistakes Sunday, and it still did not matter. Nothing usually does except his talent.
The Chiefs won their first Super Bowl since 1970 with a 31-20 triumph, a ludicrous scoreline given San Francisco seemed in command for about 52 minutes before, well, it happened. The last eight minutes of this game will change legacies and entire regions. Babies will have different names because of those last eight minutes.
Life is not fair. You probably knew this already, but if you needed a reminder, here were the Niners, with a great game plan, a ferocious defensive front, and a hell of a performance against the best passer in football for a huge chunk of the biggest game of their lives. And none of that mattered, because they did not have Mahomes. He is a football player with a knockout punch like Deontay Wilder—the early rounds never matter. No one can stare at the margin for error and laugh quite like Mahomes. Seven minutes to go, down 10 in the Super Bowl, third-and-15. The extraordinary seems normal. And so, the normal stuff started: a 44-yard flick to Tyreek Hill and a touchdown a minute later. A 65-yard drive on the next possession that culminated in a touchdown with 2:44 left. The Chiefs won the Super Bowl.
Those whose fortunes rose and fell in the final eight minutes include Andy Reid, long considered an offensive genius who could not reach the promised land, but who got there in one frantic burst of offense on a cool Miami night. That group also includes Kyle Shanahan, a 40-year-old offensive guru who is now cruelly assigned Reid’s role of being a football mastermind with notable playoff failures. Shanahan has now been the play-caller in both of the biggest Super Bowl statistical collapses by win probability, according to ESPN, as the 49ers head coach Sunday and as the Falcons offensive coordinator during Atlanta’s 28-3 disaster against the Patriots. It is not fair how much weight one game has, but again, life is not fair.
It is true that Reid had a tendency to lose big games. He lost three consecutive NFC title games in the early 2000s; he finally won one after the 2004 season and then lost in the Super Bowl. He lost the AFC title game last year in overtime. He had well-documented problems with timeouts and clock management. He was good at basically everything a football coach has to be good at except for a handful of things that can cost you titles. For all of his genius, he had some ill-timed debacles.
Mahomes solved Reid’s problems simply by being himself. Reid helped that along by getting guys open downfield at the second-best rate in football. Mahomes made it work by hitting them. There is a universe in which these two never connected, and both of them are fine. Reid would still be a good coach with Alex Smith, but not a Super Bowl winner. Mahomes would still be an elite young quarterback with any coach, but wouldn’t have some of the best schemes in the world at his disposal. A coach with no ideas might have drafted Mahomes in 2017 and, despite his talents, the QB could have been home watching Super Bowl Sunday from his couch.
We are living in the universe in which Reid and Mahomes did connect, though, and they form the head coach-quarterback combination that could define the NFL’s next decade, taking over from a Bill Belichick–Tom Brady pairing that might be done by 2021 or thereabouts. Reid floated through the football universe with small but glaring weaknesses until he found a quarterback who made those small weaknesses not matter. Reid drew up schemes that allowed Mahomes to complete some of the prettiest passes in the sport. They complete each other. It is the closest thing you’ll get to a football love story. All NFL coaches are looking for their Mahomes, and only a lucky few find him.
There’s something beautiful about it all. One day, Sisiphyus completes his push and his problems are over. One day, Charlie Brown kicks the football. One day, everything that held you back before no longer does. Reid and Mahomes are Super Bowl champions. “He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time. I don’t think he needed the Lombardi Trophy to prove that,” Mahomes said of Reid Sunday night. It doesn’t matter now. He’s got one.
Mahomes is the reason the Chiefs won Sunday, but the Chiefs are more than just Mahomes. General manager Brett Veach knew the type of team he had to assemble to make this happen: a group so fast that four of Kansas City’s five wide receivers can run a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash. Veach told me some quarterbacks might not utilize special speedsters like Hill or Mecole Hardman, but that Mahomes can catch them in stride. Mahomes is the no. 1 reason the Chiefs are at the mountaintop, but Reid and Veach put together a roster worthy of a Super Bowl winner.
Mahomes was, after all, this talented last season, and that Chiefs roster also had Travis Kelce and Hill. And still they lost to the Patriots at home in the AFC title game. The front office improved the defense by signing Tyrann Mathieu in March and trading for Frank Clark in April. It brought in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. When you have one of the best young quarterbacks in history, you need to make only a few moves to capitalize. Kansas City should be applauded for creating a blueprint for future teams with elite young passers—though it’s hard to imagine anyone coming along who’s as elite a passer at such a young age as Mahomes.
The Chiefs’ win was also a scheme victory. This week, Kansas City receivers coach Greg Lewis joked that Reid watches college film from 1910. I did not take this seriously until Sunday night, when offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said that a Chiefs’ goal-line play was borrowed from the 1948 Rose Bowl between Michigan and USC. Reid really does have a beautiful mind.
But this game will forever be about Mahomes. I thought a bit about a conversation I had last year with Mahomes’s father, Pat Sr. He told me that when his son was 10 years old, he could no longer throw the ball in the family’s large backyard. They had to find a local park, then an even bigger one once Mahomes was able to outhrow that. Essentially, nothing could contain Mahomes. He might just take over the world. Hell, I saw Rasheed Wallace walking around, and Mahomes ensured it wasn’t even the coolest thing I’d see all day. Small miracles everywhere.
There are plenty of stories in sports about magic, about things we cannot measure. Albert Einstein said the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. You can find those stories in plenty of places, but not in this Super Bowl. There was no magic or mystery to be found; everything was in its rightful place. The quarterback who unlocked a coach and vice versa. They gave a Super Bowl to a city that waited 50 years for one. “You know that anything is possible,” Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “because there isn’t anything he hasn’t done on a football field.” Well, now there isn’t.