Through a choppy, even confounding, regular season for the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes’ typically gaudy statistics were muted for a variety of reasons: the most dropped passes in the NFL, drive-sabotaging penalties, communications issues with his receivers and, yes, even misfires.
By season’s end, Mahomes had thrown for a thousand yards-plus fewer than a year ago (5,280 to 4,183), hurled only 27 touchdowns compared to 41 in 2022 and suffered a career-high 14 interceptions.
But raw stats, glaring as they’ve normally been, and even such measurables as his remarkable arm never have done justice to what ultimately defines him.
That’s all in the intangibles, like his uncanny sense of what’s around him at all times and his voracious work ethic and poise that he underscored by staying unfazed against Miami’s relentless blitzing. in the AFC Wild-Card Round game on Saturday night.
And, as he displayed yet again on Saturday night, it’s in his indomitable will to win and superpower for meeting the moment.
With an arctic temperature of minus-4 and wind chill of 27-below at kickoff, that was evident in the entire catalog of his effort in the 26-7 victory over Miami at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
In the most frigid game in Chiefs history and fourth-harshest in the annals of the NFL, Mahomes completed 23 of 41 passes for 262 yards and would have been well over 300 if not for the drops that have been customary all season but also reflected the punishing conditions.
Conditions that Mahomes essentially defied.
“I don’t think they were anticipating us throwing the ball quite as much as we did, but we were able to come out and sling it,” coach Andy Reid said. “A lot of quarterbacks can’t do that — but he did — in that kind of weather.”
For that matter, fewer and fewer quarterbacks have ever done what Mahomes is doing. The two-time NFL and Super Bowl MVP entered the game with the best postseason quarterback rating in NFL history, and the victory makes the Chiefs 12-3 in playoff games he’s started.
Only seven quarterbacks have more postseason wins attached to their names, and with two more playoff wins he’ll trail only Tom Brady (35) and Joe Montana (16).
At age 28.
Mahomes would joke late Saturday night that he’s getting old, and we’ll come back to that.
But the fire and desire are as intense, and instrumental, as they’ve ever been … even at his advanced age.
And that was embodied in one indelible play in particular: the 13-yard third-quarter run that ended with a chunk of his helmet getting blasted off by Miami defender DeShon Elliott.
The blunt hit was delivered at the Miami 3-yard-line, some 6 yards after Mahomes had secured a first down and might more reasonably have slid.
The damage to the helmet punctuated that, but it also was testimony to what really separates him … and elevates all around him.
“That’s Patrick Mahomes, man,” receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling said. “It shows the ultimate competitor that he is. He would go out there and play with no helmet and no facemask if he had to.”
Whether numbed or locked in, Mahomes initially didn’t even realize anything was amiss.
“But I got in the huddle, and everybody was telling me,” he said, smiling. “I was like, ‘I got y’all, but I’m not coming out of the game. So you need to figure it out on the sidelines.’”
Mahomes played two more plays before officials noticed. And at least from his perspective, then came the worst part of the deal: the generic backup helmet.
“We’ve got to talk about where we store the backup, because it was frozen,” he said. “So when I tried to put it on, it was completely frozen. I couldn’t get it on. I don’t know if anyone got a picture of it. It didn’t look great.”
But after Harrison Butker’s field goal made it 19-7, the equipment staff did some adaptive engineering to make it more comfortable. And Mahomes broke that in as he guided a 14-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that accounted for the final score.
Mahomes’ only other run of the night was for 28 yards on a fourth and 5. And if it wasn’t necessarily as spectacular as the berserk 27-yard touchdown run he had against Tennessee in the AFC Championship Game along the way to winning Super Bowl LIV, it came from the same wellspring.
“His will to win,” Reid said, “is ridiculous.”
Enough so that maybe his decision to keep running, and make himself vulnerable, on the helmet-breaking play wasn’t ideal.
Then again, extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Especially for a team that generally moves the ball well but too often has sputtered in the red zone.
“I was trying to get in there; I was trying to get in that end zone,” Mahomes said, smiling. “A young Pat would have gotten in. I’m getting a little old.”
Young Pat, he suggested, would have spun his way in like he did in the aforementioned Tennessee run.
“Old” Pat knows sometimes you can try to do too much.
“But,” he said, “it’s playoff time.”
His best time, still.
No doubt with more to come.
And, he reminded Saturday, not necessarily just in the sense of the remote and vague future.
But, bolstered by a stellar defense, perhaps in the weeks ahead … despite whatever the regular season seemed to suggest.
This story was originally published January 14, 2024, 6:00 AM.