TAMPA, Fla. — Patrick Mahomes has been here before, on the wrong end of a final score in the postseason against Tom Brady and eagerly awaiting his next opportunity to do battle with the NFL’s greatest quarterback of all time. On Sunday night in Super Bowl LV, Brady added another major accomplishment to his mind-boggling legacy, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 31-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Make no mistake: Super Bowl LV was a battle between the Chiefs and Buccaneers to determine supremacy in the 2020-21 NFL season, but it was as much about a clash of eras and whether the undisputed king could hold off the fast-rising challenger while making another regal run in his 10th Super Bowl appearance. Brady completed 21 of 29 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Mahomes, meanwhile, completed 26 of 49 passes for 270 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
As this season has shown, the king, even at 43, still has a lot left.
“They were the better team today,” Mahomes said after the game. “They beat us pretty good, the worst I think I’ve been beaten in a long time.”
Widely acknowledged currently as the game’s best signal-caller, Mahomes, 25, is the face of the league, the highest-paid player in NFL history and an outspoken proponent of social justice as well. Mahomes’ incomparable playoff success for a young quarterback is a big part of his story: He has an impressive 6-2 postseason record. Both losses, however, have come at the hands of Brady.
On Brady’s home turf here at Raymond James Stadium — remarkably, in his first season with the Buccaneers after 20 years with the New England Patriots, Brady helped Tampa become the first team to play in the Super Bowl on its home field — Mahomes had hoped to avenge a 37-31 loss in overtime in the 2019 AFC title game to the Brady-led Patriots. The Chiefs, as they were fond of saying, spent the entire season focused on trying to “run it back” after capping last season with their first Super Bowl title in 50 years. Again, Brady helped to ruin the best-laid plans of another NFL team. ESPN analyst Randy Moss has watched Brady do it for a long, long time.
“You hear the phrase, ‘The changing of the guard,’ ” said the Pro Football Hall of Fame member and Brady’s one-time teammate with the Patriots. “[But] when you sit up here and look at Tom Brady, he’s shown in his play that he’s not really ready to give up his crown yet.”
Now, Mahomes has multiple postseason losses against Brady to further stoke his competitive fire. And for the moment, with Brady having extended his record number of Super Bowl titles to seven, Mahomes’ quest to eventually overtake Brady as the greatest of all time has been put on hold.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen eventually. And even in losing, Mahomes was part of a classic matchup sports fans are rarely treated to, which is something he may view differently than he does in the moment, Hall of Famer Warren Moon said.
“This is like LeBron [James] beating [Michael] Jordan in the [NBA] Finals right before Jordan retired and LeBron was coming up,” said Moon, the only Black quarterback enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “That’s what people always do: They pair those two. But they don’t really have the comparison on the court because LeBron and Jordan never played against each other. Mahomes [got] that chance against Brady.”
As fast as Mahomes is scaling the mountain, even with a Super Bowl loss to Brady on his ledger, there’s no telling how high Mahomes will climb. Don’t forget: Brady has three Super Bowl losses. Mike Shanahan isn’t one to doubt Mahomes.
Considered among the greatest offensive playcallers in NFL history, Shanahan, while serving as the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator in the early 1990s, helped Steve Young develop into a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and a future Hall of Famer. Then as the Denver Broncos head coach in the late ’90s, Shanahan partnered with another future Hall of Famer at the game’s most important position, teaming with John Elway to help the Broncos win back-to-back Super Bowl titles. When it comes to the art of playing quarterback, Shanahan’s bona fides are beyond reproach.
Simply put, Mahomes does things on the football field that Shanahan never deemed possible.
“What separates him is his ability to extend plays. He extends plays better than any quarterback I’ve ever seen,” said Shanahan, who began coaching in the NFL in 1984. “And to have the accuracy that he has [on the move] is just … I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s also just got a great feel for the game. Not many people I’ve ever seen, especially this early in his career, can do the things he’s done. No way.”
So the talk about Mahomes potentially chasing down Brady isn’t premature?
“Well, people will do it,” Shanahan said. “And there’s a reason for it. You can see it.”
The numbers tell the story as clearly as Mahomes’ talent jumps off the screen while watching game video of the Chiefs. The entire list isn’t even needed. A mere sampling will do.
Before Sunday, Mahomes already held the distinction of being the youngest passer to have a Super Bowl title, a Super Bowl MVP award – having accomplished both of those feats at age 24 – and a league MVP award. He was selected the 2018 winner by the Associated Press.
Mahomes is the youngest signal-caller to start in three consecutive conference title games. He’s the youngest quarterback to start in multiple Super Bowls.
Over the past three seasons, including the playoffs, Mahomes ranks first among NFL quarterbacks in victories, passing touchdowns, passing yards, 300-yard passing games, yards per attempt and total QBR.
Mahomes’ historic start has prompted many NFL legends to reimagine what’s possible from the quarterback position. Former Washington Football team head coach Joe Gibbs led the franchise to four Super Bowls, winning three with three different quarterbacks. Gibbs marvels at Mahomes’ repertoire.
“Everyone has got a thought about Patrick Mahomes,” the Hall of Famer said. “This guy is so gifted and he can make so many plays for ya in so many different ways. With Mahomes, what’s so unusual is that he … he can just do everything. He can get out of the pocket and make a play, and he’s shown he can throw on the run and make things happen. He also does it from the pocket. He’s just a gifted guy.”
Mahomes is also a Black man. And as Mahomes’ ascent continues, his race becomes even more relevant.
The son of a Black father (longtime Major League Baseball pitcher Pat Mahomes) and a white mother, Mahomes has made it clear where he stands — emphatically.
Back in June, Mahomes was among a group of more than a dozen Black NFL stars who shook up the league in a powerful video supporting the social justice movement. Moreover, it wasn’t just that Mahomes joined in the effort. He played a key role, looking into the camera and declaring publicly for the first time in the video, “Black Lives Matter.”
He has continued to walk the talk. Along with his friend Deshaun Watson, the Houston Texans’ superstar quarterback, Mahomes organized a display of unity between the Chiefs and Texans before the league’s curtain raiser in September. Through his foundation, Mahomes split the cost with the Chiefs to use Arrowhead as an Election Day polling place.
Other Black passers have led teams to the Super Bowl. Others have won the AP MVP award. One — Moon — is in the Hall of Fame. Never, however, in league history has a classic dropback African American passer been the consensus No. 1 player at his position in any era, let alone for a long stretch.
The long, hard road traveled by Black quarterbacks in the NFL makes what Mahomes is doing, and where he may eventually wind up, so special for the trailblazers who came before him. Doug Williams revels in every new step Mahomes takes.
The first Black quarterback to both start in a Super Bowl and also be selected a Super Bowl MVP, Williams, who accomplished the feats under Gibbs with Washington, took a sledgehammer to the racist myth that African American passers lacked the smarts, heart and talent to thrive in professional sports’ most successful league.
Mahomes, the leader of a cadre of today’s superstar Black passers, has taken the lead in helping to move a onetime marginalized group to the top of the NFL, Williams said.
“There’s no doubt he has done so much for African American quarterbacks,” Williams said. “We’ve got so many of them in the league now, and more coming in, and they’re all playing well. But with what he’s doing, and what he can do, he has the opportunity to put that myth way behind us. … We need to completely bury it so we never have to deal with it again. And another Super Bowl on his resume does that for all of us.”
For Mahomes, all the talk about his potential legacy is best left for others to discuss. He’s living in the moment, still at the beginning of the road and has no interest in contemplating where it may end.
“That’s more of a long-term thing than a short-term thing,” said Mahomes, who is 25-2 in his last 27 starts. “When the end of your career is done, then you can kind of look and see where those moments were in your career where you could’ve had something or that you executed and you did go out there and achieve your dreams.”
At yet another Super Bowl, the day belonged to Brady, who has owned the game’s biggest stage more than any other player in NFL history. Mahomes, though, still clearly appears on track to be next — whenever Brady finally decides he’s had enough fun blocking the quarterback pack.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.