It’s a remarkable reference point of consistency that the Kansas City Chiefs will host their fourth straight conference championship game Sunday, this time trying to stave off the resurgent Cincinnati Bengals en route to a third straight Super Bowl appearance.
Kansas City hadn’t hosted a conference championship in franchise history before 2019. And now it’s been one route to the Super Bowl every year since. An undeniable combination of talent, perseverance, and a little bit of luck. This all isn’t on the shoulders of Patrick Mahomes, who was only drafted by the team in 2017, or Andy Reid, who has led the Chiefs to the playoffs in every season but one of his nine-season tenure. It’s been a slow burn of how to build a franchise correctly, ignited by the two people I mentioned above. A quarterback that knows how to win tough games and an experienced coach ready for a locker room to buy into his ideas.
Does that combination sound familiar? Sure, you can point out the differences between what started to transpire exactly 20 years ago in New England with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to what began three seasons ago with Mahomes and Reid. Brady was a rookie when he led the Patriots to their first championship. Mahomes was in year No. 4. Reid’s tenure leading the Eagles was much better than Belichick’s leading Cleveland in the early 1990s. New England’s most recognizable duo went from unexpected winners to the greatest pair of villains in the sports lexicon in a few years. Like Star-Lord and Ant-Man turning into Thanos and Doctor Doom overnight.
The comparison of Brady-Belichick New England to anything else is so large that it doesn’t feel right thrusting the second coming of dominance this century into the most populous city in Missouri. Should the Chiefs win Sunday, that conversation needs to start, if it hasn’t already. Mahomes plays the quarterback position completely differently than Brady. That’s obvious. The scoreboard and record books don’t factor in style points. And as of now, Mahomes’ trajectory could make him the most on-field lucrative passer of this generation. A long way from Brady, but his foundation is set.
Let’s look back at the only playoff collision with all four in the same venue on Jan. 20, 2019, the first of those four AFC Championship games from Arrowhead Stadium. New England leads 14-0 at half and 17-7 at the end of the third. Six scoring plays happened in the fourth quarter, including 24 Kansas City points and a game-tying field goal from Harrison Butker with 11 seconds left in regulation. That was to combat a Rex Burkhead go-ahead touchdown with 39 seconds to go. In overtime, the Patriots won the coin toss and the Chiefs never got the ball. Brady headed to another Super Bowl and disposed of the Rams.
Again, does that sound familiar? Didn’t Kansas City knock Buffalo out of the playoffs less than a week ago after late fourth-quarter, back-and-forth scoring and only one team touching the ball in overtime? There are differences, but being on the wrong side of an overtime playoff defeat and exacting revenge under identical circumstances three years later must’ve been a monkey off plenty of Chiefs’ fans backs.
After winning Super Bowl LIV over San Francisco in February 2020, Kansas City wanted to repeat as champions until it ran into the Buccaneers, now obviously quarterbacked by Brady. If the Chiefs’ offensive line was healthy, maybe we’re looking at a different result, but Tampa Bay won that championship on its home field.
Patrick Mahomes has been my fantasy football quarterback since he entered the league. I’ve gone out of my way to draft him. There aren’t many other guys who have delivered the number of points he had in the previous three seasons, and I wasn’t about to let another one of my friends reap those benefits. I started to notice early into this season his production had slipped. There were glimpses of Mahomes from season’s past, but he and Kansas City hadn’t consistently struggled like they did to open 2021 in several years. Until they didn’t.
I lived in Missouri for all of the regular season. I heard the not-so-quiet whispers: “Kansas City can’t struggle like this!” “What’s gotten into this team?” “Maybe it’s best if Mahomes goes through a lot of adversity so he can come out the other side better?” “This season might be a loss.”
The Chiefs were 3-4 entering November. They didn’t lose again until 2022 and they’re 11-1 overall since, with the only loss coming to Sunday’s challenger to their AFC throne, Cincinnati. Who knew such a drastic in-season turnaround was possible? How about last year’s Tampa Bay squad? The Buccaneers were a hardly impressive 7-5 entering their bye week. They refocused and won eight straight games to finish the season. Tampa’s last loss before the win streak? A 27-24 loss to Kansas City. Avenging a previous loss and further solidifying a midseason turnaround? Mahomes resembling Brady’s past wouldn’t be so bad after all for Kansas City fans.
There is so much more to prove from raw data for Reid and Mahomes to challenge Belichick and Brady as the greatest coach-quarterback duo ever. As a pair, the latter won six Super Bowls, appeared in nine title games, reached 13 AFC championships, and won 17 division titles. Three straight Super Bowl trips is something the Patriots didn’t do until the 2016-18 seasons, Brady and Belichick’s 16th-18th seasons on the team. Mahomes and Reid can accomplish that feat in year No. 6 together. It’s a different looking path, but yielding these mammoth results year after year will start to draw more comparisons. A victory Sunday could be a point of no return.