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The 15 Iconic Plays That Define Patrick Mahomes

As the Chiefs quarterback prepares to play in his fourth Super Bowl in five years, this collection of unbelievable passes and game-changing runs is a reminder of a level of greatness we shouldn’t take for granted

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

To all the fans of the other 31 NFL teams, I need to make one thing perfectly clear: We didn’t ask for this. Sure, we dreamed of having a franchise quarterback; as lifelong fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, having a franchise quarterback was pretty much all we dreamed about. We had received everything else on our wish list: shutdown corners, defensive ends who relentlessly pursue the quarterback, impenetrable offensive lines, record-setting running backs, Hall of Fame tight ends. But a true game-altering, as opposed to game-managing, quarterback? For two generations, that remained as firmly out of our grasp as a Super Bowl did. The closest we came was when we got to enjoy the final two years of Joe Montana’s career—which led to the Chiefs’ only AFC championship game appearance between the 1970 and 2018 seasons.

But we didn’t ask for this. We didn’t ask for Patrick Lavon Mahomes II. Because who in their right mind would think to ask for him? Who in their right mind would think that he was even possible? How obnoxiously entitled would we have to be to demand a quarterback with Dan Marino’s arm, John Elway’s elusiveness, Montana’s field vision, and Tom Brady’s intangibles? We didn’t ask for this. No one asks for this.

Our prayers would have been deemed answered with the delivery of a much lesser quarterback. In an alternate universe, where Patrick Mahomes was never born and the Chiefs had instead drafted Josh Allen or Joe Burrow or Lamar Jackson or Jalen Hurts or Justin Herbert or C.J. Stroud, our quarterback would still be the toast of Kansas City, the most popular man in both Kansas and Missouri, the guy whom Chiefs fans would defend on talk radio and message boards the world over as the quarterback who would lead the franchise to its first Super Bowl in 50 years. He might have even done so already, because in that universe, unlike our own, he would have the seismic benefit of never having to compete against Patrick Mahomes.

Instead, we got Mahomes: the Quarterback Who Was Promised, the Curse-Breaker, the Grim Reaper. To our opponents, he is the Crusher of Dreams, the Final Boss, the One Who Knocks. He is Buffalo’s Baba Yaga, Miami’s Michael Myers, and Jacksonville’s John Wick. And now, he is Baltimore’s bogeyman as well, as the Ravens were added to the list of teams that entered a playoff game with high hopes and left with their hands on their helmets. Consider this: Mahomes has already eliminated every AFC North and AFC South team in a playoff game: the Steelers, Browns, Bengals, Ravens, Colts, Texans, Titans, and Jaguars. He has yet to play any of his AFC West rivals in the playoffs, largely because the Chiefs have all but eliminated the Broncos, Chargers, and Raiders from the playoffs—the Chiefs have won the division every year of Mahomes’s career. He has also beaten the Bills (three times!) and Dolphins in the postseason, leaving just two AFC teams—the Patriots and Jets—without chips on his bingo card. He’s 28 years old!

So, no, we didn’t ask for this. But that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate our outrageous fortune, savor it, revel in it. We know exactly how blessed we are. Just because we may be a little in your face about how good we have it right now doesn’t mean we have forgotten where we came from—in fact, quite the opposite, we are squeezing every delicious drop of enjoyment from our team’s success precisely because we remember where we came from. We are like the Count of Monte Cristo; we were imprisoned for so long in a dungeon with other ne’er-do-wells who didn’t deserve to be there, fans of the Bills and Lions and Browns and Vikings and Bengals and Chargers—so, so many teams—and then, one day, we escaped and found our way to a treasure beyond our imagination, and we built a new life and assumed a new identity for ourselves so far removed from our previous one that you would think we had forgotten our previous life altogether. But we remember. We know where we started, and we know how far we’ve come. And, above all, we know who brought us here: our sweet prince, our Patty Mo.

So, as we enter another Super Bowl week—a near-annual tradition for us now, almost as consistent as the AFC championship game’s transformation into the Arrowhead Invitational (and, YES, WE KNOW THESE THINGS ARE COMPLETELY ABSURD)—let us take a trip down memory lane and relive 15 plays that define no. 15’s career. George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” but for our purposes, those who cannot remember the past are missing out on one hell of a ride.

1. 12-Yard Completion to Demarcus Robinson Against the Broncos

December 31, 2017, Week 17 at Broncos
Fourth quarter, 1:44 on clock, game tied 24-24
First-and-10 from KC 32

In the eight months that had passed between the day Mahomes was drafted and the first time we got to see him in a game that counted, the hype meter had grown to truly irresponsible levels. The whispers in training camp. The rumors of no-look passes. The perfectly placed pass 50 yards on the fly to Demarcus Robinson in a preseason game against the Titans. But still: We wanted to see it in a game that counted. Fellow first-rounders Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson had both earned starting roles by Week 5, and while the Chiefs had good reason to keep Mahomes on the bench—Alex Smith was having the best season of his career—we Chiefs fans were failing the marshmallow test. We wanted a taste.

Finally, in Week 17, with the team 9-6 and locked in to the no. 4 seed in the AFC, the Chiefs threw us a morsel. The first-stringers, including Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, all got a week off to rest, while Mahomes got a chance to show his stuff by throwing to a bunch of backups and special teamers against Denver’s starters. Mahomes’s test drive made it even harder to put him back on the bench for the playoff game the next week. The first completion of his career, on third-and-10, was a perfectly placed deep ball over the middle to backup tight end Demetrius Harris for a 51-yard gain. He turned Albert Wilson into Marvin Harrison Sr. for the day; Wilson, who had never broken 90 receiving yards in his 54-game career to that point, caught 10 of 11 targets for 147 yards.

The Chiefs saw enough from Mahomes to sit him down and give third-stringer Tyler Bray snaps for a drive in the fourth quarter. But after Denver tied the game with 2:53 left, Mahomes got the chance to lead the Chiefs on a game-winning drive. And we got the chance to see Mahomes Magic for the first time. After his protection immediately broke down, he scrambled to his right while drifting back, drifting back, before finally—while still backpedaling and 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage—throwing a dart 26 yards in the air that found Robinson perfectly between three defenders. It’s listed in the play-by-play as “complete short right to Demarcus Robinson for 12 yards.” But really, it was everything that would become the hallmarks of Mahomes’s career in one play: the poise, the escapability, the back-footed throws, the fearlessness to make such throws, and the pinpoint accuracy to complete them. The commentary from CBS’s announcer says it all: “What a play! I’m shaking my head, just throw it away, don’t throw it, don’t throw it, and he throws it and completes it!”

2. 36-Yard Touchdown Pass to Anthony Sherman on a Wheel Route

September 9, 2018, Week 1 at Chargers
Third quarter, 0:55 on clock, Chiefs lead 24-12
First-and-10 from LA 36

Finally, we got to open our present and see Mahomes in a game that not only counted, but mattered. And it couldn’t have gone any better. Four touchdowns! No interceptions! Thirty-eight points on the road to beat a Chargers team that would finish 12-4! It was everything we could hope for.

But one pass stood out for its sheer cheek. With the Chiefs already leading comfortably late in the third quarter, Andy Reid dialed up a play call you might see once or twice a decade—a wheel pass to the fullback. Anthony Sherman runs like a fullback—which is to say not particularly swiftly—but got a step on his defender in man coverage because no defender expects the fullback to run a wheel route. Mahomes showed rare touch on the pass, lofting it over the outstretched arms of 6-foot-3 linebacker Kyle Emanuel and dropping it right into the bucket of Sherman’s arms. We suspected that Mahomes was capable of greatness, and Reid had long before established his reputation as one of the premier offensive play callers of his generation. But it was on this play that the explosive alchemy of their work in tandem suddenly became evident. Before the season opener was even complete, it was clear that this would be the most fun offense Chiefs fans had ever seen.

3. 4-Yard Touchdown Pass to Chris Conley After Scrambling All Over the Field

September 23, 2018, Week 3 vs. 49ers
Second quarter, 9:04 on clock, Chiefs lead 14-7
Third-and-goal from SF 4

Mahomes had been incredibly productive to this point—with 10 touchdowns in his first three starts—but all his touchdown throws had come in structure: from the pocket or something close to that. Until this play, when the 49ers’ formidable pass rush broke through on third down and forced Mahomes to take off to his left—and then make a panicked 180-degree spin while continuing to drift back. He somehow stayed upright after losing his balance, sprinted to his right past the hash marks, and then—16 yards behind the line of scrimmage—unleashed a perfect throw while running at full speed to hit wide receiver Chris Conley, who had slipped away from coverage into the corner of the end zone.

More than five years later, I can say with perfect confidence: That was the moment for me. I think I will remember the way the play-by-play guy said, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” with the perfect inflection of incredulity for as long as I live. I had seen enough. He was the quarterback I had been waiting for my whole life.

4. 6-Yard Left-Handed Completion to Tyreek Hill

October 1, 2018, Week 4 at Broncos
Fourth quarter, 3:14 on clock, Chiefs trail 23-20
Third-and-5 from KC 45

We may never again experience the giddy incredulity of those early weeks of the 2018 season, when every single week we were raising the ceiling of what we thought Mahomes was capable of, and then the next week he’d go out and do something that made us raise that ceiling yet again. My first article detailing the experience of rooting for Patrick Mahomes was already written and ready to publish on The Ringer the morning after this Monday Night Football game—and then had to be furiously (and joyfully) rewritten in the middle of the night after Mahomes made an unthinkable play to cap off an incredible comeback.

It’s not simply that Mahomes completed a pass with his left hand. It’s not simply that he did so in an undeniably clutch situation—third down at midfield with barely three minutes left and the Chiefs trailing by three, on the road, against the team’s biggest rival. It’s not even that the Chiefs would go on to score the game-winning touchdown, making this the first time (but hardly the last!) that Mahomes would come back to win after being down 10 points, or that in his fifth NFL game, he had already won as many games in Denver as any Chiefs quarterback since Len Dawson had.

It’s that, when you watch the play carefully, you realize that making a left-handed throw was not simply brilliant; it was necessary. Running to the left sideline with Von Miller in hot pursuit, there was a genuine risk that Miller might grab Mahomes’s right arm from behind and impede his throw or even cause a strip sack. By switching arms, Mahomes put that much more space between the ball and Miller while also giving himself a better angle on the throw to Hill. Throwing left-handed was clearly the higher-percentage decision.

At least it’s clear when you watch the play in slow motion from a camera angle that allows you to see behind Mahomes. Mahomes did the math, or used his intuition, at full speed and without eyes in the back of his head. In the words of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, “Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.” Before this play, Mahomes was a prodigious quarterback talent. Afterward, he was a certified virtuoso, a genius with the pigskin, and for the first time, Chiefs fans began to contemplate whether “greatest new quarterback of the decade” might actually be selling him short.

5. 48-Yard, Across-His-Body Pass to Hill With the Game on the Line

December 9, 2018, Week 14 vs. Ravens
Fourth quarter, 1:29 on clock, Chiefs trail 24-17
Fourth-and-9 from KC 40

It’s hard to top a left-handed pass on a game-winning drive on the road against your archrival, so our standards for inclusion are getting higher. But two months later, Mahomes had yet to prove he could engineer a comeback in the game’s final seconds. Mind you, he hadn’t had much of an opportunity to do so—he had lost only two of his first 13 starts, and in one of them, the Patriots kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired. But in Week 14, he got the opportunity to drop back on fourth-and-long with the game on the line, and he checked that off his list.

The Ravens didn’t make it easy, either; they chased him almost to the right sideline before Mahomes unleashed a deep pass against both his body and his momentum that hit Hill in stride for a huge gain. The next time Mahomes would face fourth down with the game on the line was … four plays later, with the Chiefs at fourth-and-3 from the Ravens’ 5-yard line, and he hit running back Damien Williams in the flat for the game-tying touchdown. The Chiefs would win in overtime.

6. 21-Yard Pass on the Run to Spencer Ware

January 20, 2019, AFC championship game vs. Patriots
Fourth quarter, 0:32 on clock, Chiefs trail 31-28
First-and-10 from KC 31

Mahomes had proved everything he possibly could during his first regular season as a starter: 5,000 yards, 50 touchdowns, and he was the overwhelming favorite to win his first league MVP award honors along with all the moments above as the Chiefs entered the playoffs. But still, we couldn’t know for certain how he would handle the win-or-go-home pressure of the postseason or how he would adjust to facing elite defenses with bespoke game plans crafted by the greatest defensive mind of all time. He accomplished the former by comfortably beating the Colts 31-13 in the divisional round—hardly something the fan base took for granted, as the Chiefs had lost 11 of the previous 12 playoff games!—and then got the opportunity to face the latter in his second playoff game, squaring off against the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick in the first AFC championship game ever played at Arrowhead Stadium.

Mahomes looked overmatched—for 30 minutes. The Patriots held the Chiefs scoreless in the first half, a feat accomplished only one other time in the Mahomes era before or since. But in the second half, Mahomes led the Chiefs to touchdowns on four of their first six drives, taking a 28-24 lead just before the two-minute warning. When Tom Brady was intercepted by Charvarius Ward with 54 seconds left, it looked like the Chiefs were on their way to the Super Bowl. Except Dee Ford inexplicably lined up offside, and the Patriots kept the ball and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 39 seconds left. A kickoff return gave the Chiefs the ball on their 31, at least 30 yards from field goal range, with just 32 seconds on the clock and one timeout in their pocket.

Two-minute drills work best when you have, you know, two minutes. A 32-second drill is nearly impossible. With one timeout, that gives you three or four plays, at best, before the clock runs out. Against arguably the greatest coach ever.

It took Mahomes two plays. The first was this one, a 21-yard pass to backup running back Spencer Ware—Ware’s only touch of the postseason. The next play was a perfect pass to Robinson for 27 yards, which, combined with a defensive offside call—Mahomes and the irresistible cadence of his voice had once again lured a defender into the neutral zone as if they were one of Odysseus’s sailors—stopped the clock and even gave the Chiefs one shot at the end zone before they kicked the game-tying field goal. In two plays, with the season on the line, Mahomes had turned an impossible situation into overtime. (This is called foreshadowing.)

7. Mahomes Throws a Jump Pass on a Bad Knee up the Middle That Mecole Hardman Takes to the House for a 63-Yard Touchdown

November 10, 2019, Week 10 vs. Titans
Fourth quarter, 12:05 on clock, Chiefs lead 22-20
Third-and-9 from KC 37

The only thing that could derail the Mahomes train at this point was an injury, and in 2019, the worst-case scenario happened. In Week 7, a simple quarterback sneak in Denver on fourth-and-1 left Mahomes screaming in agony with what looked like a season-ending injury. It was a dislocated kneecap that was relocated in a timely fashion, and Mahomes somehow missed only two games before returning, albeit at less than 100 percent.

If there were any concerns that Mahomes might play hobbled just because he was hobbled, he assuaged them by throwing for 446 yards and three touchdowns in his return against Tennessee while pulling off this gorgeous pass. He made a jump pass in traffic on a bad knee—on third-and-long, mind you!—and put it in the perfect spot downfield for Mecole Hardman to house it.

The Chiefs would blow the lead and lose the game by three thanks to a series of unforced errors, including both a muffed field goal kick and a blocked field goal in the final two minutes, and their record fell to 6-4. But our disappointment afterward was tinged with relief, because our quarterback was back, and he had proved that he was both a quick healer and able to play through pain.

(More foreshadowing: The Chiefs would not lose again all season.)

8. Mahomes’s 5-Yard Touchdown to Travis Kelce While Dragging His Back Foot So as Not to Cross the Line of Scrimmage

January 12, 2020, divisional round vs. Texans
Second quarter, 0:50 on clock, Chiefs trail 24-21]
Third-and-goal from HOU 5

There have been many emotional swings in the six seasons that Mahomes has been the Chiefs starting quarterback, but nothing compares to the 40-minute stretch of time on the afternoon of January 12, 2020. At 2:50 p.m. CST, the Chiefs had suffered an almost unfathomable emotional gut punch: Coming off a bye week to start the playoffs, with another home AFC championship game just one win away, they were suddenly down 24-0 early in the second quarter to the Houston Texans.

None of this was Mahomes’s fault, mind you. The Chiefs’ first two drives ended when receivers dropped third-down passes; they had a punt blocked for a touchdown; they fumbled a punt return that gave the Texans the ball at the Chiefs’ 6-yard line. The Chiefs were, at that moment, still the franchise that had won two playoff games in a quarter century. Another dominant regular season was about to go for naught, and not even Mahomes could lift the curse over this franchise.

By 3:30 pm, the Chiefs led, 28-24, becoming the first NFL team in history—regular season or playoffs—to lead at halftime after being down as many as 24 points.

The most impressive of Mahomes’s four touchdown passes in the second quarter—three of which were to Kelce—was the last, on third-and-goal from the Texans’ 5-yard line. Amid the chaos, with multiple defenders closing in on both him and Kelce, Mahomes somehow had the presence of mind to drag his back foot on the grass as he threw the ball to make sure he stayed behind the line of scrimmage. At 2:50 p.m., I wasn’t sure if Mahomes could overcome a half century of history. By 3:30 p.m., I was convinced he could fly.

The Chiefs scored a touchdown on seven consecutive drives and won the game—one in which they had trailed by 24 points—by 20.

9. Mahomes Evades or Bowls Over Half the Titans Defense on a 27-Yard Touchdown Run to Take the Lead Right Before Halftime

January 19, 2020, AFC championship game vs. Titans
Second quarter, 0:23 on clock, Chiefs trail 17-14
Second-and-10 from TEN 27

Mahomes has slowly and grudgingly earned respect as one of the most valuable quarterbacks in football with his legs as well as his arm. He may never be a high-volume, designed-run rushing quarterback like Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson, but on a per-attempt basis, he is as good as any quarterback in the game. For his career, Mahomes averages 5.2 rushes per attempt—but 22 percent of his rushing “attempts” are actually kneel downs. Take those out and he has averaged 7 yards per rushing attempt for his career. In the playoffs, he is even better: 5.7 yards per attempt officially, but after eliminating the 28 percent that are kneel downs, he has averaged 8.6 yards per rush.

This is the iconic running play of his career, both for the timing—it gave the Chiefs the lead with just 11 seconds left before halftime in the AFC championship game—and for the variety of skills he showed on a single play. He faked out two Titans with his arm and playacting, he showed the balance to stay just in bounds as he scampered upfield, he cut inside when everyone expected him to go out of bounds, and he finished by eluding the grasp of another Titan defender to force his way into the end zone. Allen might do it more, but even he couldn’t have done it any better than Mahomes did that day.

10. Jet. Chip. Wasp.

February 2, 2020, Super Bowl LIV vs. 49ers
Fourth quarter, 7:13 on clock, Chiefs trail 20-10
Third-and-15 from KC 35

No explanation needed: This remains the defining moment of Mahomes’s career. NFL Films spent 10 minutes breaking down this play in detail, but I’d happily watch a two-hour director’s cut. Everything about Jet Chip Wasp speaks to Mahomes’s brilliance, from the play itself, which Mahomes was begging Reid to call, to the adjustment he made to counteract the 49ers’ fierce pass rush—Mahomes dropped back to 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage—to the throw, which traveled 57.1 yards in the air, his longest completion of the entire 2019 season. The outcome of that Super Bowl may feel inevitable in retrospect, but it’s hard to convey how close to hopeless the Chiefs’ situation felt at the moment. The 49ers defense was relentless, and Mahomes threw interceptions on back-to-back drives for the first time all season. But third-and-15, down two scores, with barely seven minutes left called for a miracle.

You ask for miracles, and I give you Mahomes.

(As a bonus, Sunday’s Super Bowl is a rematch of this game, and the 49ers still can’t let this play go. Or at least their owner can’t.)

11. Mahomes Makes the Most Physically Impressive Throw of His Career, Which Falls Incomplete

February 7, 2021, Super Bowl LV at Buccaneers
Fourth quarter, 13:43 on clock, Chiefs trail 31-9
Fourth-and-9 from TB 11

In the only playoff game Mahomes has ever lost in regulation, he still may have been the best player on the field. The Chiefs had lost starting left tackle Eric Fisher to a torn Achilles in the AFC championship game, and four of their starting offensive linemen in the Super Bowl were backups, which led Mahomes—who was battling a painful turf toe injury—to run for his life all game, scrambling for more yards before he threw than any other quarterback had in a game all season. If that wasn’t enough, he had two touchdown passes dropped by his receivers in the end zone.

This was one of them, and coming on fourth down, with the Chiefs down three scores in the fourth quarter, it all but ended the ball game. So why is this play on the list? Because this is, in my opinion, the greatest incomplete pass in NFL history. With one final, desperate attempt to rally in the Super Bowl, Mahomes was forced to flee for his life at the snap, backpedaled from the 11 all the way to the 30-yard line, and used his one good foot to evade two unblocked rushers. He had his feet taken out from under him as he started to throw, and, while midair and throwing sidearm, he still managed to launch a 30-yard pass that hit his intended target (Darrel Williams) square in the face mask.

It fell harmlessly to the ground, denying Mahomes one of the greatest highlight-reel plays in NFL history, because it was that kind of game. I was worried that time and the Chiefs’ loss would diminish the resonance of that incredible throw or the legacy of how valiantly Mahomes played in a losing effort. It is a testament to how undeniably brilliant this pass was that, three years later, it remains firmly planted in the memories of football fans. Like William Wallace, Mahomes only grew his legend through the glorious way he endured defeat while being betrayed by those he trusted most.

12. 25-Yard Pass to Travis Kelce to Set Up a Game-Tying Field Goal on a Drive That Began With 13 Seconds on the Clock

January 23, 2022, divisional round vs. Bills
Fourth quarter, 0:08 on clock, Chiefs trail 36-33
First-and-10 from KC 44

Thirteen seconds. Two words that will torture every Buffalo Bills fan like they were a member of the poets department from now until they win it all.

“Do it, Kels! Do it, do it, Kels!” Eight words that will always bring a smile to my face.

In arguably the Greatest NFL Game Ever Played, the Bills scored a go-ahead touchdown to take a 29-26 lead, and then the Chiefs scored a touchdown to take a 33-29 lead, and then the Bills scored a touchdown to take a 36-33 lead … all after the two-minute warning. And then—with 13 seconds on the clock (but, crucially, with two timeouts)—the Chiefs started their final drive at their own 25-yard line (curiously, the Bills didn’t kick it short and force the Chiefs to waste precious ticks on the clock with a runback).

It seemed an impossible task: The Chiefs had exactly two plays to move the ball into field goal range if they wanted to tie the game. Or it would have seemed impossible, had they not done something similar against the Patriots a few years earlier. And here, they did it again.

The first play was a simple dump-off to Hill that took advantage of Hill’s speed and the Bills’ prevent defense—their linebackers were seemingly stationed in Mongolia—to pick up an easy 19 yards. But on the second play, the almost supernatural connection between Mahomes and Kelce came to the fore. After the game, here is what they said:

Mahomes: “The play to Travis, I mean, it was kind of a thing where he wasn’t necessarily supposed to do that, but after the timeout, we got a look at what the defense is doing, and he actually said it to me, he’s like, ‘Hey, if they do it again, I’m going to take it right down the middle between both of the guys guarding me.’”

Kelce: “And probably midway through his cadence, he was screaming at me at the line of scrimmage, ‘Do it!’ Like, ‘Do it! Do it!’ And I was just like, ‘All right, here we go, boys.’ And it was just a little backyard football.”

On the broadcast, you can hear Mahomes barking out his instructions to Kelce. With the season on the brink, with just seconds to decide, Mahomes and Kelce had the courage to improvise and the trust in each other to do it together. Kelce picked up 25 yards and a timeout stopped the clock with three seconds left, and Harrison Butker kicked a game-tying field goal that seemed unthinkable just moments before. And this time, it was the Chiefs who won the overtime coin toss, and this time, it was Allen who lost the game without ever touching the ball. The Chiefs marched down the field, and Mahomes threw a walk-off 8-yard touchdown. To Travis Kelce.

It wasn’t my happiest moment ever as a Chiefs fan—they have, after all, won two Super Bowls in the past five years, and this win only put them back in the AFC championship game. But I have never felt more blessed to root for the team that has Mahomes—and Kelce and Reid—than I did at the end of this game. Nothing was impossible, because impossible was nothing.

13. 19-Yard Touchdown Pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling

January 29, 2023, AFC championship game vs. Bengals
Third quarter, 4:21 on clock, game tied 13-13
Third-and-10 from CIN 19

The only reason why the overtime win against the Bills is arguably the Greatest Game in NFL History is because the Chiefs didn’t finish the job. The next week, they took a 21-3 lead against the Bengals at home in the AFC championship game and were up by 11 with the ball at the Bengals’ 1-yard line and five seconds left before halftime, and then … well, I’m still not entirely sure what happened, and when we get the 10-part Netflix documentary on Mahomes’s career in 2045, I hope we finally find out. But what happened on the field was that Mahomes inexplicably threw a sideways pass to Hill, who was tackled in bounds as the clock ran out. And then in the second half, the Chiefs were completely discombobulated, and Mahomes played the worst half of football in his playoff career. Down three with 1:30 left in the game, the Chiefs had first-and-goal from the 5-yard line and had to settle for a game-tying field goal. They won the overtime coin toss, but Mahomes was intercepted on a deep pass to Hill, and the Bengals drove down for the game-winning field goal. It remains the most painful and mystifying loss of his entire career.

A year later, there was a rematch. Before the game, Bengals players were calling our home stadium “Burrowhead,” and the mayor of Cincinnati issued an official proclamation containing the words: “Whereas, Joseph Lee Burrow, who’s 3-0 against Mahomes, has been asked by officials to take a paternity test confirming whether or not he’s his father.”

Outside of the Super Bowls, I have never wanted the Chiefs to win a game as badly as I wanted them to win this one. This was our Thermopylae, our Agincourt, an existential battle against an implacable enemy that neither gave nor expected any quarter, in which the only options were victory or death. If that wasn’t enough, Mahomes could barely walk. One week earlier, in the Chiefs’ first playoff game, Jaguars defensive end Arden Key landed on Mahomes’s leg, and the quarterback suffered a high ankle sprain so severe that he had trouble even handing off the ball. Reid forced Mahomes to come out of the game for X-rays—backup quarterback Chad Henne led the Chiefs on a 98-yard touchdown drive in his absence—and while Mahomes reentered the game after halftime, he was barely able to move and winced whenever he was forced to.

If that didn’t raise the difficulty level against the Bengals enough, they nearly ran out of wide receivers during the game. Justin Watson was already inactive, and Kadarius Toney left with an ankle injury in the first quarter. In the third quarter, Juju Smith-Schuster went out with a knee injury, and Hardman suffered a pelvic injury that ended his season. The situation was so dire that Marcus Kemp, a practice squad veteran who had four receptions in five NFL seasons, caught his first pass of the year. Mahomes had just one established receiver left, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and late in the third quarter, on third-and-10, he fired a laser of a pass off one leg to MVS, who caught the ball as he was falling down in the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown. It wasn’t the game-winning play, but the Chiefs wouldn’t have avenged their most painful loss and made it back to the Super Bowl without it.

14. Mahomes Scrambles up the Middle for 26 Yards on the Super Bowl–Winning Drive

February 12, 2023, Super Bowl LVII vs. Eagles
Fourth quarter, 2:55 on clock, game tied 35-35
First-and-10 from PHI 43

With two full weeks to continue rehabbing his ankle, Mahomes looked almost spry to start the Super Bowl—but then the injury was re-aggravated when he was tackled from behind by Philadelphia’s T.J. Edwards while trying to scramble right before halftime, and the Chiefs went into the locker room down 10 points. But the extra-long break due to the Super Bowl halftime show seemed to do him some good; he came out for the second half moving well, if gingerly. More to the point, the Chiefs scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the second half. The Eagles tied the game on a touchdown and two-point conversion with 5:15 left, giving the Chiefs the opportunity to drain the clock on a game-winning drive if they played their cards correctly.

They played their cards correctly. Their first eight plays were either runs or completed passes, keeping the clock moving while they methodically drove down the field. And in the midst of a potential Super Bowl–winning drive, Mahomes found that the pocket was being squeezed on both sides with green grass ahead of him, and he had just enough acceleration and speed on one good leg to stay one step ahead of Eagles defenders for a quarter of the field. His scramble put the Chiefs in field goal range with barely two minutes left on the clock, and when, on third down, James Bradberry was called for defensive holding, the Chiefs were able to drain the clock to just 11 seconds before kicking the championship-winning field goal.

15. 32-Yard Rainbow Pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to Ice the Game

January 28, 2024, AFC championship game at Ravens
Fourth quarter, 2:19 on clock, Chiefs lead 17-10
Third-and-9 from KC 46

This wasn’t remotely the best play of the Chiefs’ last game; Mahomes’s touchdown pass to a perfectly covered Travis Kelce on their opening drive was better, and Mahomes’s 10-second scramble on third-and-5 that led to an incredible diving catch from Kelce for the first down (which also led to a touchdown) was probably the most impressive Chiefs offensive play of the season. But for pure poignancy, in terms of sheer narrative, this pass to MVS defines what it’s like to root for Mahomes just as well as any other play of his career does. Valdes-Scantling entered the postseason as a Chiefs pariah, the perpetrator of so many dropped balls that no one in the fan base had the slightest faith in him. But Mahomes never gave up on him, and after MVS rewarded his faith with two clutch receptions against the Bills the week before, Mahomes trusted him on a play that helped send the Chiefs back to the Super Bowl. And Mahomes threw the ball so perfectly—while flat-footed and with a flick of his wrist—that MVS could not help but catch it, even as he fell to the ground, because the ball hit him right in the gut. It’s something out of a movie script (specifically, Necessary Roughness). It’s a fairy-tale ending, just as he’s given us so many times before.

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