Mahomes aims to lead Chiefs to 5th straight AFC title game

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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) and Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) greet each other after an NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Ask any coach or player around the NFL and they are bound to tell you that the speed of the game picks up when the playoffs arrive. There is no longer time to think on the field; decisions more often are made by in-the-moment instincts rather than carefully crafted game plans.

Perhaps that is why Patrick Mahomes thrives in the postseason.

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Whether it be his preponderance of no-look passes, crazy side-arm slings or the myriad other ways that the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback sparks creativity on the field, there is arguably no better player in the NFL when it comes to playing sandlot football. His ability to make something out of nothing leaves teammates and foes alike shaking their heads.

“My family or friends are like, ‘Oh my God, how’s Patrick Mahomes?’ And I’m like, ’He’s just a special individual,” said Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose career has been rejuvenated during his first season playing with him.

"It's just like playing ‘Madden’ back when you had Michael Vick, who can just run all over the field and then launch it 80 yards down the field," Smith-Schuster explained. “It's kind of like that but for more it's ILR — in real life.”

What has become known simply as Mahomes Magic around Kansas City tends to shine brightest this time of year, and the results are downright incredible: He has never failed to reach the AFC championship game in four years as a starter, twice going to the Super Bowl and once winning its MVP award while ending the franchise's 50-year title drought.

He will try to improve to 5-0 in the divisional round on Saturday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

“I think all the guys understood that whenever they signed with this team that we want to win the Super Bowl. And if we don't, we feel like it's not where we should be,” Mahomes said. “But you can't look ahead. We have a great team that we're playing this week, that's playing great football, so how can we practice today so that we're better by the end of the week? And I think you have to have that mindset — and I think the guys do — and I think we're in a good spot.”

Rarely are the Chiefs, winners of the last seven AFC West titles, in a bad spot with Mahomes on the field. In all, he is 8-3 in the postseason. He is averaging 307 yards passing per game, a number driven up by a 404-yard effort in last year's wild-card win over the Steelers. And he has thrown 28 touchdown passes against seven interceptions while adding five TD runs, including one in last year's divisional-round win over the Bills.

That night at Arrowhead Stadium may have best encapsulated Mahomes in the playoffs.

The Chiefs trailed 29-26 with less than 2 minutes left when he threw since-departed Tyreek Hill a 64-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead. And when the Bills raced the other way and scored with 13 seconds to go, Mahomes answered with two long completions to Hill and Travis Kelce to set up Harrison Butker's tying field goal as time expired.

In overtime, Mahomes completed all six of his passes, with the last the winning TD toss to Kelce in a 42-36 victory.

“Pat's a very competitive person,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said, “and on top of that, obviously, he's a great football player. He's going to do whatever he can to make sure that he can help us be successful.”

That means tirelessly working on his craft, and the results are evident: Mahomes shattered his own franchise record with 5,250 yards passing this season, to go with a league-leading 41 touchdown passes and four touchdown runs.

“With me being there with him for his rookie year to where he's at now, it's so far advanced,” said quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy, who spent time as the head coach of the Bears before returning to Kansas City this season.

“Sometimes the hardest thing for some quarterbacks to do is to call a play. For him, that’s like second nature. It’s simple,” Nagy said. “It wasn’t like that as a rookie. Sometimes we take that for granted because we have some unique formations, motion shifts, plays, etc. Well, that’s just the beginning of the play. You’ve got to get up and do everything else at the line of scrimmage then, oh, by the way, you’ve got to make a play.”

Mahomes has been making them for years. And making them look easy.

Most of the time.

The last time he stepped on the field in the playoffs, against the Bengals in last year's AFC championship, he produced perhaps the worst performance of his career. Mahomes still threw for 275 and three touchdowns, but he also threw a pair of interceptions, and they gave Cincinnati a chance to rally from a 21-3 deficit for a 27-24 overtime victory.

It's a loss that has fueled Mahomes through the offseason, the regular season and right into this year's postseason.

“You build up for this all season,” he said. “The regular season, you take it week by week, but you want to be here in the playoffs, and you know you're going to be playing the best football teams in the league, and that's what you want to do as a competitor. And so I'm excited to go up against a great football team at Arrowhead Stadium. That's always a good time.”


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