Still in full uniform, but now with a white Super Bowl champion hat on his head, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes contemplated a question he had to assume would come. A question that most of the two-time champions receive in the aftermath of the encore.
Does it look different than the last one?
Mahomes actually had an answer for that.
“I appreciate him for failings,” he said, as if eager to respond.
It’s the most revealing answer he provided in the aftermath of lifting the Lombardi Trophy for the second time following a 38-35 win against the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII.
Because it’s not just a game. What we should take away from the last 12 months is that Mahomes is an athlete driven by his failures, even more than his successes. Beyond that, though, we should look closely at how he harnesses that drive.
A loss to the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl or the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game doesn’t simply act as a form of bulletin board material. It doesn’t just push him to work harder or longer. It requires real changes in the way they think and ultimately the way they operate.
Mahomes is a two-time Super Bowl champion — one of only 13 quarterbacks with that title now — but his legacy shouldn’t be that he secured a second ring by joining that exclusive club. It should be like.
Let’s remember the storylines of the 2021 season, because this is the context that matters here. In early 2021, opposing defenses told Mahomes that he wanted to be a gunslinger. They were right, however; this is the nature of him. At the close of that same season, the Bengal defense called Mahomes incapable of becoming a pocket passer, and they were half right too.
But the Bengals were wrong last month.
And the Eagles got it wrong last weekend.
Mahomes is no longer Mahomes. Sure, he achieved the same accomplishment in Glendale, Arizona that he achieved in Miami Gardens in 2020. That day also ended with a Super Bowl hat in his postgame briefing with the media.
But a very different player.
Mahomes doesn’t care As works. He just cares self works.
This requires change. His new method, his style of play, has evolved and when I say evolved I don’t just mean improved. He’s a different player because the defenses forced him to be a different player, and he took that as an instruction. As requested.
Mahomes, the guy who wowed us in his first year as a starter with his deep shooting and every season after that with his off-script comedies, became King of the Checkdown in 2022. He probably wouldn’t have liked that title. But he has thrown 21 touchdowns on passes that receivers caught behind the first down marker, seven more than a year earlier and 10 more than in 2021.
Second in the NFL this season: 10. More than doubled the field.
He had 35.8 expected added points (EPA) on pitching behind the sticks, according to Sports Info Solutions, nearly six times the amount of any other quarterback. For the past two seasons, he has had a negative EPA on pitching behind the sticks.
It’s a remarkable turn, and what needs to be mentioned is that it goes against the essence of the quarterback the Chiefs draft – and one of the reasons they drafted him.
Do you think this is a more fun way to be a quarterback? Probably not. But more successful? Well, the Chiefs finished with the No. 1 offense in the league in both points and yards, and then scored touchdowns on every possession in the second half of the Super Bowl until they voluntarily took their foot off the accelerator to set the game-winning field goal with the least amount of time remaining.
In four quarters of the Super Bowl, by the way, Mahomes threw a pass that traveled more than 20 yards in the air and fell incomplete. One of 27 attempts. This equates to 3.7%. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, by comparison, made seven of his 38 attempts (18.4%) of at least 20 yards through the air.
Style be damned. Mahomes took to the biggest stage in the world and was content to worry only about the final score rather than crafting a highlight or two along the way. This is an evolution and gets lost in the weeds because it comes from the player most capable of producing those highlights.
It’s also only part of the story. The pocket passerby thing is real. Mahomes has amassed 105 expected added points on shots from inside the pocket this season, a 23 percent improvement over the previous year. He doubled the field in that stat, a year after finishing outside the top five.
There are some Andy Reid intrigues mixed into this narrative. The offense is his design, after all. But the quarterback has to be willing — and able — to make the changes. This was enticed by his own failure.
There was a lot going on this week as a second Super Bowl win places Mahomes in his legacy of all-time NFL quarterbacks. A third would suggest the same conversation. Then a quarter. And forward we will go.
It’s too simple.
We cannot forget the how.
The true all-time greats win and lose the desire to impress you with their methodology. Satisfaction — even enjoyment — comes from the end result.
This is the path Mahomes is on. It just means that results are more likely to follow.