There have been few times when Patrick Mahomes, in what has been a nearly flawless 92-game football career, has been faced with a dilemma like this. There was no NFL learning curve for him. He threw 50 touchdown passes in his first full season as a starter, in 2018. He is 64-16 as a quarterback in the regular season.
He played in 12 playoff games.
Ten of those 12 games — all but the two Super Bowls he’s played in — have been in Arrowhead Stadium’s cozy sea of red. Think about it. Think how dominant his Chiefs teams have been. Not a single game on the road in the playoffs. Already. He has an MVP award. He is, at worst, an equal favorite to add a second this year.
Yet this week Mahomes will face something he has almost never faced before. Joe Burrow and the Bengals are coming to Arrowhead this Sunday for the AFC Championship game, and ever since the Who Deys flattened the Bills in Buffalo, there’s been a sort of angelic aura around them and their cool-as-a-movie. -quarterback of the theater in August.
“He’s a great team and he’s a great player,” Mahomes said Wednesday morning in Kansas City, Mo. “I think everyone knows that.”
So it’s different for Mahomes this time. For most of his career he was hounded and he was the biggest star on the pitch. It mostly lived up to all that hype. (Who are we kidding? He mostly passed him.) But it’s also fair, very fair, to point out that while he won nine of those 12 postseason games, all three losses came against two quarters.
1. Tom Brady, in the 2018 AFC Championship Game and again in Super Bowl LV two years later.
2. Joe Burrow, in the 2021 AFC Championship game, after Burrow spotted Mahomes and his team with a 21-3 lead.
Mahomes and the Chiefs have faced Burrow and the Bengals two other times in the past two regular seasons. The Bengals also won those two games. So it’s Cincinnati who will bring a three-game series winning streak to Arrowhead this Sunday, it was Cincinnati who drew more than 77% of the pre-game play action, moving the line up to 4.5 dots. It’s Burrow who has emerged, so far, as the popular choice for the question: Which player did you start your team with?
Mahomes has never been an underdog before. He’s an underdog now. Both literally and metaphorically. There is a notable dissenter.
“Anytime I step on a pitch,” Mahomes said Wednesday, “I don’t feel like an underdog. Especially at Arrowhead.
It could fall on the Bengals – and everyone else – to heed the warning:
Beware of Underdogs.
Definitely beware of this reputable underdog. Mahomes was humiliated by the Bengals. He’s also been betrayed by his body – although he walked without a limp on Wednesday morning, he’s still only four days away from being diagnosed with a sprained ankle, and we’ve all seen how he got struggling to move against the Jaguars.
“He’s had injuries before,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He can build on this past experience he has had. He’ll be fine no matter what. We just make sure it’s safe – safe as you can be on a football pitch, anyway.
There are times when you think the Mahomes experience is running out of adjectives, if not steam, and that’s usually around the time he pulls a no-look pass out of his trick bag, or a throw left-handed, or a basketball jump-shot TD throw — or just a perfect spiral into a textbook in a waiting set of weapons, usually owned by Travis Kelce, often near the goal line.
On Sunday, he’ll bring with him that usual array of treats along with a few other things that aren’t usually part of the repertoire: a chip on his shoulder, for one, and a need for retribution. He was terrible in the second half of the AFC title game last year, when the Bengals came back to win 27-24, and he quietly insisted: ‘It was all my fault’ amid rubbish of this defeat.
Burrow also vastly outplayed him in the Bengals’ Dec. 4 win — also 27-24, which was the first time speculation had begun to stir that there might have been a passing of the torch among the quarterbacks — NFL fullback. Neither team has lost since. Someone will surely do it on Sunday.
“We know who we’re playing against,” Mahomes said. “We know what they did against us.”
Maybe the Bengals have the Chiefs’ number. Perhaps Burrow can spend Sunday solidifying his campaign as the NFL’s new top gunner. May be. All of this is assuming that Patrick Mahomes will give it all up. You make such assumptions at your own risk. Beware of this outsider.