"The Last Dance" came out at the perfect time back in 2020. Not only did it get a lot of us through the COVID lockdown, it also provided a renaissance of Michael Jordan centric stories - both factual and anecdotal - that brought back some fond memories for those who were lucky enough to watch Jordan in his prime during an unprecedented run with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990's.
Time can do two things to stories. It can provide a "Big Fish" quality to a story, making the bold aspects of the protagonists even bolder than they were and the heroic feats go from human to extra-terrestrial. Time can also provide the opportunity for perspective and hindsight.
For Kansas City Chiefs fans, perspective has been something that has been necessary all year long as the team has struggled at times to get their footing, especially on the offensive side of the ball. But on Sunday, when the Chiefs travel to Baltimore to take on the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game, the team will be giving us more than just something to reflect on. The Chiefs are in the middle of rewriting history, and if time is the paper on which the story is being written, Patrick Mahomes is the pen.
We're not hopping off of the perspective train here, we're all aboard for the remainder of the playoff run whether it ends on Sunday or culminates with the Chiefs hoisting the Lombardi for the second year in a row, and a third in the last five seasons. The fact that the Chiefs are even in this position is something that very few (not me - I want that on record) expected.
After a season full of false starts, dropped passes, perceived demises of living legends, and even speculation that future Hall of Fame coach Andy Reid may hang it up after this year, many were sure that the would-be dynasty was crumbling before our eyes. Where are we at now? A sixth straight AFC Championship appearance.
For those of you who were in attendance for the 2019 AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead, you probably remember the same feeling I recall from that night. "Man, this was our shot. You don't get to the AFC Championship every year, who knows when we'll be back." The dread wasn't as defined as it had been with previous iterations of Kansas City Chiefs football with the presence of Patrick Mahomes at the helm, but it was still there. Who would have imagined that 5 years later we'd be chalking up our sixth consecutive appearance?
Well we're here, and it's in large part thanks to the Herculean efforts of a man who has established himself as the no-questions-asked best quarterback in the NFL. Throughout the course of the week we've heard all kinds of absolutely mind boggling Mahomes playoff stats and records.
For starters, the fact the he and Travis Kelce are the most prolific QB/Receiving combo in the history of the game - ahead of pairing like Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski and Joe Montana and Jerry Rice - provides enough perspective to appreciate his and Kelce's greatness alone. But here are some other numbers to blow your mind that you may or may not have read this week:
- Mahomes is 13-3 in his playoff career, passing for 4,561 yards with 38 touchdowns, 443 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and a 67% completion percentage.
- Mahomes' .812 winning percentage in playoff games is the best in NFL history of players who have started more than 10 games.
- Mahomes is 8-1 (.889 winning percentage) in playoff games where the Chiefs trail by 7+ points at any time in the game. The rest of the NFL is 11-53 (.172 winning percentage) in that same time frame.
- Mahomes has the most playoff victories of anyone in NFL history before the age of 30 with 13. He is still only 28.
- Mahomes has now defeated every non-AFC West team that has qualified for the playoffs in his career with the exception of 2 - the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens.
So when Mahomes and the Chiefs take the field on Sunday we won't just be watching the first showdown we've ever seen in the playoffs between two former MVP's under the age of 30. We won't just be watching a clash of last year's Super Bowl champions against the betting favorite to win this year's Lombardi Trophy. We'll be watching Patrick Mahomes take a crack at more incredible playoff benchmarks and have the opportunity to soak in one more mind-bending performance.
Ask the fans in Buffalo if the Mahomes effect is real. The Bills were the hottest team in the NFL coming in to an AFC Divisional home game against the Chiefs - the first road playoff game of Mahomes career - and were led by an incredible performance by their franchise quarterback Josh Allen. Did it matter? Mahomes and the Chiefs were so deadly on offense that they only faced 5 third down situations in the entire game and beat Buffalo 27-24 despite only running 47 offensive plays compared to Buffalo's 78. The Chiefs defense, while stout in the second half, forced no turnovers to help that effort.
Teams haven't found a way to beat Mahomes when he's throwing for 400 yards and 5 touchdowns. They now are having a hard time defeating Kansas City when Mahomes throws for 215 and 2 TD. At some point, the question doesn't become "how do teams scheme the Chiefs?" We're reaching the point where other teams and quarterbacks look at Mahomes and say "Man, you just can't beat this mother f****er".
If Mahomes and the Chiefs are able to complete this playoff run with another Super Bowl title, it will not only propel Kansas City into the discussion of the greatest dynasties in NFL history. It won't just transcend Mahomes from the "right now" category to the "all-time" classification when it comes to his greatness.
Two more wins by Kansas City this year would signify the greatest 5-year stretch in NFL history by any franchise or quarterback. In a season where Mahomes has seemingly dragged a somewhat flawed roster to the precipice of another conquest of the football world, you have to think that maybe the comparisons to other quarterbacks just don't fit anymore.
The Last Dance showed us a lot about the 1990's Chicago Bulls. But the biggest takeaway I had was that Michael Jordan wasn't just great, Michael Jordan was feared. When he drove the lane, men who stand 7 feet tall and 250+ pounds got out of the way. His teammates feared his edge in practice, his opponents feared him in games. He had a presence to him that no one has ever seen in team sports before or after.
We already know Patrick Mahomes is great - if he walked away from the game tomorrow he'd be in Canton in 5 years. He is now approaching the same level of intimidation - transcending respect - that Jordan had when he played. The Tom Brady comparison is great, but by the time it's all said and done Patrick Mahomes may have rewritten the record books and the definition of greatness.