With 7:13 to play in Super Bowl LIV, Patrick Mahomes’ highly anticipated Super Bowl debut was not going according to plan. After throwing just five interceptions during the entire regular season, Mahomes had already turned the ball over twice, a big reason why his Kansas City Chiefs were trailing the San Francisco 49ers 20-10.
Despite the deficit, Mahomes resiliently led the Chiefs to a 22-point comeback to seal a 31-20 victory in the 54th Super Bowl.
For much of the game, however, victory seemed out of the Chiefs’ reach. After falling 10 points behind, the Chiefs faced a third down with 15 yards to go from their own 35-yard line. Given the immense pressure of one of sports’ largest stages and a double-digit deficit, it had finally seemed as though the moment had become too much for the 24-year-old phenom.
Trailing by two scores, Kansas City could not afford to give the ball back to San Francisco. It was at this moment that Mahomes made his biggest throw of the night. Facing pressure up the middle, Mahomes stepped up and fired the ball, finding an open Tyreek Hill at the 49ers’ 22-yard line. Four plays later, Mahomes linked up with his trusty tight end Travis Kelce for a one-yard touchdown pass, and the comeback began.
Over the next five minutes of game time, the Chiefs would find the end zone twice more, turning what was once a 10-point deficit into a comfortable 31-20 victory. Kansas City claimed their first Super Bowl in 50 years, thanks in no small part to the resilient play of Mahomes. He had led comebacks before, but this one felt different, coming on the biggest night in the NFL.
Even with the victory, Mahomes looked nothing like the player he was last season when he won the 2018 NFL MVP, recording 50 touchdowns and captivating fans with his cannon of an arm and surgeon-like precision. Instead, he was missing completions and forcing his receivers to make difficult catches on off-target throws. Eventually, these mistakes caught up to Mahomes, resulting in the two momentum-swinging interceptions on the Chiefs’ first two drives of the second half. Mahomes’ ability to respond and come back from these errors, however, demonstrates a key factor for sustained success — finding ways to win even without one’s best skills.
“To me, my mindset is always play and compete to the last whistle, until that clock strikes zero,” Mahomes told the media after the game. “So I just went out there and kept competing.”
Regardless of Mahomes’ impressive comeback performance under pressure, he was not at his best. In fact, he was far from it. On surface level, it was clearly his worst outing of the playoffs and one of his weakest this entire season. Mahomes’ two Super Bowl interceptions were his only of the playoffs, and Sunday’s game was his first multi-interception game since Week 12 of 2018. Mahomes finished with 6.81 yards per attempt, his third-worst of the season and well below his season average of 8.3. To further prove the mediocrity of his performance, Mahomes’ passer rating of 78.1 was his second-lowest of the season.
Despite all this, Mahomes was able to lead his team in scoring 21 unanswered fourth quarter points, tying the second-largest comeback in Super Bowl history. This comeback is what makes Mahomes’ outing all the more impressive. Even without his best stuff, Mahomes elevated his play when it mattered most and took home the trophy. For that, he is more than deserving of the recognition as the youngest Super Bowl MVP ever.
As a generation of veteran star quarterbacks approach the end of their careers, including Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady, it is Mahomes who has proven he is here to stay. At the end of the day, a quarterback is going to be judged by how many games and, more importantly, how many Super Bowls he wins. Tom Brady stands alone with six Super Bowl rings, a feat that continues to astonish. He has reached such a high level of achievement due to many factors, but it is his ability to will his team to victory even when he does not play his best that trumps them all. For that reason, the true predictor of sustained success is if a player can win without their A-game.
Before Sunday’s Super Bowl, there was no question Mahomes was a very talented quarterback — perhaps among the most talented in the league. His Super Bowl performance, however, proved his ability to overcome mistakes and secure the win even when he is not at the top of his game. Mahomes’ performance confirms that he will be back on this stage again. The question now is not if, but when.