LAS VEGAS – During the dark days of December, when the Kansas City Chiefs appeared broken beyond repair, superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes finally snapped for all the world to see.
Uncharacteristically, the NFL’s best player lost his cool in the final moments of Kansas City’s second confounding loss in as many weeks, directing his rage at game officials after yet another costly unforced error by the defending Super Bowl champion – in a season defined by them to that point – derailed the team’s comeback bid. It seemed that the weight of expectations might finally topple the Chiefs, stirring delight from Baltimore, to Buffalo, to Cincinnati and elsewhere throughout the NFL.
The Chiefs’ stranglehold on professional sports’ most successful league was over, or at least would be interrupted, the thinking went, because not even Mahomes could overcome all that ailed them. As it turned out, though, reports of the Chiefs’ demise were greatly exaggerated.
As he’s prone to do, Mahomes rallied, and the Chiefs were in lockstep behind him. Now, the rest of the NFL will just have to cope harder.
On Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium, the Chiefs cemented their place among the greatest teams in NFL history, repeating as Super Bowl champions and winning their third title of the decade with a 25-22 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
On the first possession of overtime, San Francisco’s Jake Moody kicked a 27-yard field goal to give the 49ers a 22-19 lead with 7:22 remaining. Mahomes – who was named Super Bowl MVP for the third time after finishing with 399 all-purpose yards (333 passing, 66 rushing), two touchdowns and an interception – then drove the Chiefs 75 yards, capping the drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman for the game-winning score.
On the home field of the Las Vegas Raiders, its AFC West rival, Kansas City became the first team since the New England Patriots in 2004 and 2005 to win back-to-back Super Bowl championships. The previous four defending Super Bowl winners who qualified for the game the following season, including the Chiefs in 2021, failed to repeat.
This time, with Mahomes out front as usual, Kansas City defied the trend while completing a compelling in-season turnaround.
Outside of the Chiefs’ organization – and perhaps inside as well – few NFL observers expected the Chiefs to close another season celebrating on a makeshift stage amid a confetti shower. In other words, Mahomes had the doubters right where he wanted ’em.
Make no mistake, because of what the Chiefs overcame, this run to a Super Bowl championship was their most impressive since a second-year quarterback from Texas Tech became their starter to begin the 2018-19 season.
During the 2023-24 regular season, Chiefs pass-catchers led the league in dropped passes. Often, their high-powered offense stalled. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor, the team’s top free-agent acquisition last offseason, was the NFL’s most-penalized player. In a span of four weeks in December, Kansas City suffered three losses, including a 20-17 defeat to the visiting Bills in Week 14 that set off Mahomes publicly in a manner that the NFL had not seen since he entered the league as the Chiefs’ No. 1 pick (10th overall) in the 2017 NFL draft.
Against the Bills, a rare offside penalty called on Chiefs wide receiver Kadarius Toney negated Toney’s potential game-winning touchdown off a backward pass from tight end Travis Kelce with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Renown for, among other things, being second to none at maintaining his composure during games, Mahomes lost control.
He would later apologize for his outburst, but the underlying issues that prompted it remained. For the first time in Mahomes’ career, the Chiefs were a hot mess, and he buckled, albeit briefly, while shouldering it all.
Hall of Famer Warren Moon remained confident that the Chiefs would make it through the storm. As long as Mahomes pulled it together, the struggling Chiefs still had a puncher’s chance to win the Super Bowl, said Moon, the only Black quarterback enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“No matter how bad it looked [earlier in the season], you knew they could get it going again because of that quarterback,” said Moon, who played his final two seasons with the Chiefs. “He had already shown that no situation was too big for him … and that he would never give up no matter what was going on around him.
“Now, they [the Chiefs] had a lot of issues with the drops going on, and the fact they just weren’t playing well on offense. And it was going on, really, since the start of the season. You had never really seen him get upset, at least not in public, but you could understand how it was all adding up. But who he is, he’s always gonna keep fighting.”
Within the Chiefs’ locker room, that was the view as well.
With victories in their final two games of the regular season, the Chiefs won their eighth consecutive AFC West title (sixth straight with Mahomes starting) and entered the playoffs confident they would complete their ultimate goal. The presence of Mahomes in their lineup helped to inspire belief, veteran Chiefs guard Nick Allegretti said.
“I’ve talked about this with a lot of teammates, we talk about it together: The belief that you can win is so important,” Allegretti said. “It sounds simple, but there are a lot of talented teams that really just don’t have that belief. They might be around that .500-type level, but [their record] could be so much better if they believed.
“Pat has 100% belief in himself. We have 100% belief in him. We never think Pat can’t get it done or he won’t get it done. And having someone who can go out there and get it done, against any odds in any situation, it gives all us of true belief. When you think about what a small difference there is in winning a losing, having that is huge.”
As they faced formidable challenges on the road in the playoffs for the first time during the Mahomes era, the Chiefs needed every bit of what Mahomes inspires.
After dispatching the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card Round, the visiting Chiefs defeated the AFC East champion Bills in the Divisional Round. Baltimore was up next.
On the Ravens’ home field, the Chiefs ended the season of the conference’s top-seeded team. Finally, Kansas City completed its successful title defense against the NFC’s best team, defeating the 49ers, the opponent against whom the Chiefs kicked off their dominant run in the 2020 Super Bowl.
The Chiefs’ sparkling success is the result of those in its organization, from top to bottom, being committed to excellence. Fact is, however, some have had a bigger role than others in the process, club president Mark Donovan acknowledged.
“When you think about [Mahomes’] leadership and his work ethic, the way he really builds competitors around him, through his examples and through his trust in them … he really transcends the position,” Donovan said. “A lot of leaders are really good at leading from the front and saying, ‘Do as I say. Follow my lead.’ And he is a guy who does that.
“But he also says, ‘OK. This is what we’re going to do together. And to do that, this is what I need you to do.’ That’s one of the difference-makers with him, though there are so many it’s hard to keep track of them all. And his competitiveness. All the greats have that assassin-like competitiveness. They’re just not going to fail. And he’s definitely one of them.”
His name is Patrick Lavon Mahomes II. He wears No. 15. At only 28, he’s already among the greatest quarterbacks ever. And on the night he won his third Super Bowl championship and his third Super Bowl MVP award, a strong argument could be made that he’s now second to only one.
Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.