IT was the most pivotal of moments. Tied game. Seventeen seconds left. The Kansas City Chiefs with a 3rd and 4 on the Cincinnati Bengals’ 47 in the AFC title game. In preordained fashion, it was Patrick Mahomes who willed his injured leg to join his healthy one and gain just enough yardage to eke out a first down. And then Mahomes was hit out of bounds by Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai who, up until that gaffe, had played a tremendous game. The extra 15 yards given for the unnecessary roughness penalty was just enough for Harrison Butker to nail the 45-yard field goal and send the Chiefs to their third Super Bowl in four years and further cement Mahomes’s legend.
Had this been a regular-season game, Mahomes probably would have sat it out. Or maybe not. Maybe he really is superhuman, as we have suspected for much of his career. When an actual human suffers a high ankle sprain – as Mahomes did less than 10 days ago against Jacksonville – they are typically sidelined for at least three weeks. But Mahomes is a different breed: there wasn’t a scintilla of doubt he would play against the Bengals.
This one was personal. No way was Mahomes going to let his backup, Chad Henne, be tasked with removing the seemingly superglued monkey that is the Bengals off the Chiefs’ backs. If the term Burrowhead, a reference to the Bengals’ stunning win in last year’s AFC Championship Game in Kansas City, was going to die, Mahomes was going to be the one to kill it. He did just that.
Mahomes put in one of the gutsiest, most inspiring performances we’ve ever seen from an NFL quarterback. More than 300 passing yards, a couple of touchdowns and a game-winning drive is nothing new for Mahomes. But doing it on one leg is unheard of. And doing it on one leg and continuing to perform as three of his receivers went down injured is on another level.
But Mahomes went into this matchup with immeasurable determination. He proved what many of us already knew – that Mahomes at 80% or 60% is still better than everyone else in the NFL.
He connected with Travis Kelce for a touchdown on a 4th and 1 in the second quarter on a throw he made look effortless but was dripping with difficulty. And Marquez Valdes-Scantling made catch after catch for 116 yards. He was the recipient of a perfectly precise touchdown throw, in which Mahomes had to push hard off his injured right ankle.
superhuman. @patrickmahomes— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2023
📺: #CINvsKC on CBS
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As with all Bengals-Chiefs matchups over the past couple of years, this one was full of intrigue. There was the Bengals creeping back into the contest in an eerily similar way to last year’s Championship Game. There was Zac Taylor with the ballsiest play call you’ll see on 4th and 6 that resulted in Joe Burrow’s deep completion to a double-covered Ja’Marr Chase. There were all kinds of officiating controversies that infuriated both sidelines. And, yes, perhaps there should have been a holding penalty on the Chiefs during the Mahomes run that set up the winning field goal.
None of that takes away from the display of grit and sheer excellence we saw from Mahomes. Any debate about identity of the best quarterback in the NFL has been put firmly to bed.
A joyous Kelce interrupted Mahomes’ postgame interview for a quick announcement: “Burrowhead, my ass. This is Mahomes’ house.”
I’d take it a step further. This is Mahomes’ league.
MVP of the week: Chris Jones made Joe Burrow’s night an uncomfortable one Chris Jones made Joe Burrow’s night an uncomfortable one. Photograph: Denny Medley/USA Today Sports Chris Jones, defensive tackle, Kansas City Chiefs. Add Jones to the list of Chiefs players who were bothered by the Burrowhead moniker. Jones had his own itch to scratch, entering the AFC Championship without a postgame sack in his entire career. Jones promptly delivered two sacks, three tackles for loss and five quarterback hits in one of the most dominating performances by a defensive lineman in postseason history. Mahomes will rightly be praised for his performance on Sunday, but I implore fans to watch this game back with a lens on Jones to see a masterclass in dominant line play. Both men were responsible for the Chiefs’ victory.