Super Bowl LVII: The Inevitable Patrick Mahomes

  • February 13, 2023

NFL Super Bowl – Best Super Bowl ever? Maybe, for the first 58 minutes. Worst Super Bowl ending ever? You might not want to say the words “defensive holding” anywhere near Greater Philly for a few weeks. Love it or hate it (or a little of both), the NFL gave us our money’s worth with the Kansas City Chiefs’ 38-35 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII.

Super Bowl LVII: What it Means

One Super Bowl victory is an accomplishment. Two of them make an era. With their victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, the Chiefs formally ushered in the Patrick Mahomes Era.

Oh, you thought we were already in the Patrick Mahomes Era? Not really.

Remember the Aaron Rodgers era? Nope, because it never happened, not outside of Wisconsin. Rodgers, for all his greatness, was just a supporting character for Phase II and Phase III of the Tom Brady Epochs.

There was no Russell Wilson Era, either. Wilson lost his chance to upstage Brady and establish an era after his Seahawks vanquished Peyton Manning a decade ago. Rodgers and Wilson now behave more and more like silly Silver Age comic book supervillains with each passing year: curses, foiled again, time to slink into our volcano lairs.

Mahomes and the Chiefs faced a similar fate if they lost to the Eagles, especially with Mahomes’ megabucks due to start rolling in. Joe Burrow is already being offered the Next Brady crown. The hipsters cannot stop gushing about Justin Herbert. Jalen Hurts (whose four-total-touchdown performance on Sunday may go overlooked by history) would have been the toast of the league if not for a play here and a play there. Josh Allen and his army wait to attack yet again from the tundra next year. An “overpaid, overrated” Mahomes narrative has been skulking about in the brush since Super Bowl LV, waiting for its chance to pounce.

Mahomes was having none of it. He triumphed on Sunday in every way an athlete and champion can triumph. He overcame a halftime injury, a re-aggravation of the injury that he overcame weeks ago in the playoffs. He led a comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit. He outran defenders on an ankle that looked like it should have been in an air cast. He engineered a game-winning fourth-quarter drive in the final minutes. He managed the game, with no sacks or turnovers against the most sack-happy defense of the last 30 years.

Mahomes was gritty. He was elusive. He was poised. He looked like he was buffed by a dozen power-ups and cheat codes. Sure, he got assists from Andy Reid’s game plan full of surprises and some big plays from unexpected contributors. The great ones never do it alone. Mahomes was Michael Jordan mixed with Willis Reed mixed with Tom Brady mixed with, well, Mahomes. He was, ultimately, inevitable.

One Super Bowl victory can, over time, fade into “ONLY one Super Bowl victory.” That sounds preposterous to fans who wait decades for one moment of vindication. But it makes perfect sense to Eagles fans who are smarting this morning, Packers fans who are perennially salty about 13-win seasons, and talk-radio personalities who cater to the perpetually dissatisfied and aggrieved. I can hear them now, echoing in my phone during my guest spots from the future of some parallel world where the Chiefs lost on Sunday. “What is Patrick Mahomes’ legacy? After all, he ONLY won one Super Bowl?”

Even the best quarterbacks—ESPECIALLY the best quarterbacks, the ones that cannot claim moral victory after 11 wins and a playoff berth—are always one bad day from becoming yesterday’s news.

Sunday’s Chiefs win was not just a second championship. It recontextualized 2020 and 2021. Those seasons are no longer a slow retreat from glory, but the second act of the saga, Mahomes’ Empire Strikes Back, complete with Brady helming a rebuilt Death Star.

And now? The Chiefs are the clear successors to the Patriots; 2019-2022 a cohesive whole of excellence; Brady a Force Ghost in his underwear; Rodgers and Wilson in full retreat; Burrow, Herbert, Allen, Hurts, and others waiting a turn that may or may not come.

And no future provocateur, eager to feed sour grapes to grouchy fans during the midday shift, will ever be able to straight-facedly claim that Mahomes was overhyped, overpaid, or othered into some “yeah, but” category again.


Super Bowl LVII: What Happened

The Eagles opened the game with a crisp, balanced 74-yard touchdown drive, capped with a Jalen Hurts touchdown sneak. The Chiefs answered briskly with a 75-yard drive of their own, highlighted by 20- and 18-yard Travis Kelce receptions (the latter a touchdown) and a 24-yard run by South Jersey’s Isiah Pacheco.

An OPI penalty on the first play of the next Eagles possession resulted in a stalled drive. The Chiefs drove into scoring position with the help of a 22-yard Kelce reception, but Harrison Butker’s 42-yard field goal attempt doinked off the right upright.

The Eagles started the second quarter with A.J. Brown out-maneuvering and out-muscling Trent McDuffie and Juan Thornhill for a 45-yard touchdown.

But after an Eagles defensive stop and what looked like a promising drive, Hurts mishandled the football while changing hands during a designed third-and-6 run. Nick Bolton scooped up the loose ball for a 36-yard Chiefs touchdown. The Eagles bounced back from Hurts’ miscue with a run- and swing pass-heavy 75-yard, 7:19 drive featuring two fourth-down conversions, one of them a long Hurts designed run on fourth-and-5.

Disaster appeared to strike when the Chiefs got the ball back with 2:20 to play in the half. Mahomes came up limping badly on his gimpy ankle after getting hogtied on a failed scramble. The Eagles missed an opportunity when an apparent DeVonta Smith catch was ruled incomplete upon sub-molecular replay review, but a Jake Elliott field goal gave the Eagles a 24-14 lead.

After Rihanna defied gravity in a Halftime Salute to Super Smash Bros, Mahomes trotted onto the field with his ankle shot full of Toradol and nanorobots and led a smooth 75-yard drive highlighted by several throws under pressure (including a shoestring catch by Kelce) and perhaps the most nimble scramble in history by a man with one numb leg.

The next Eagles drive collapsed into a “What’s a Catch?” singularity. What was called a bang-bang Miles Sanders fumble and scoop-and-score touchdown by Bolton on the field was ruled an incomplete pass upon review. A third-and-14 conversion by Dallas Goedert was upheld after referees subjected the replay to CSI analysis and scoured the NFL rulebook with a team of lawyers. The Eagles burned 7:45 of game time (tied for the longest drive in Super Bowl history) but were forced to settle for an Elliot field goal and a six-point lead.

Everything was clicking for the Chiefs on the next possession. The offensive line protected Mahomes. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Pacheco stepped up with fine plays. And Andy Reid dialed up the deviltry with a fake-screen wheel route by Smith-Schuster, followed by a misdirection pass that left Kadarius Toney wide open from the 5-yard line to waltz into the end zone. The Chiefs took their first lead, 28-27, early in the fourth quarter.

Then the Eagles appeared to come unglued. A Chiefs blitz on third-and-2 on the next Philadelphia series led to a Hurts throwaway. Sirianni chose to punt, and Arryn Siposs’ low line drive led to a long Toney return. Reid schemed up another opportunity for a short walk-in touchdown, this time by Skyy Moore (on a similar concept to the Toney touchdown), uncovered on an Eagles goal-line blitz.

Ah, but you know that momentum is not real, dear Football Outsiders reader. The Eagles got the ball back and did what they do. Runs. Short passes. A sneak. A bomb to a wide-open Smith, this time without the replay challenge. Another sneak for a touchdown, then a Hurts sweep for the two-point conversion.

The mood with the game tied 35-35:

Mahomes moved the ball methodically when the Chiefs got the ball back. A third-down overthrow under duress of Smith-Schuster from the 15-yard line appeared to set the stage for a Chiefs field goal and one last Eagles possession.

But … defensive holding, James Bradberry: 5 yards, a Chiefs first down, and a chance to run most of the remaining 1:48 off the clock before Butker’s game-winning chip shot.

The holding call was accurate, but ticky-tack. Color commentator Greg Olsen didn’t like it. No Eagles fan could like it. Emotionally, this one-time child grounded for a wall-punching tantrum during Super Bowl XV hated it. Intellectually, this lover of games best settled by the players—this old sportswriter musing about whether he was watching the greatest Super Bowl ever—hated it.

But to paraphrase the Futurama accountants, the holding call was “technically correct, which is the best kind of correct.”

The Chiefs deserve every accolade. But it’s impossible to not imagine what might have happened—and how great this game could have been—if the Eagles got another crack, down by three, with a minute-odd left to play.

What’s Next for the Kansas City Chiefs

If Patrick Mahomes retires tomorrow, he’s a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer. If he had retired last week, he probably would have been a first-ballot HoFer, though voters might understandably have held retiring one week before the Super Bowl against him.

Mahomes is already one of the 10 best quarterbacks in NFL history. An argument can be made that he is already among the top five.

If Andy Reid retires tomorrow, he’s a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Reid is one of the top 10 head coaches in NFL history. An argument can be made that he is among the top five.

If Travis Kelce retires tomorrow, he’s a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer. Whether or not Kelce is the greatest tight end of all time is a matter of taste. He is absolutely among the top five.

Chris Jones may be the one member of the Chiefs whose HoF case changed substantially in the last three weeks. Jones now has two Super Bowl rings, three tipped passes in one Super Bowl victory, and a two-sack takeover of an AFC Championship Game to go with a growing stack of Pro Bowl appearances and regular-season sacks. Those “signature moments” should keep Jones from getting shunted too far behind Aaron Donald and lost in the stack when he reaches the ballot many years from now.

Far-future Hall of Fame debates are not nearly as interesting as the Chiefs’ immediate legacy.

The team is in excellent shape for 2023, despite the fact that the OMG section of Mahomes’ half-billion dollar contract is now kicking in. The Chiefs drafted exceptionally in 2022, and Trent McDuffie, George Karlaftis, Skyy Moore, Joshua Williams, Bryan Cook, Leo Chanel, Jaylen Watson, and Isiah Pacheco all look ready to play some sort of role moving forward. Their emergence will offset some free-agent losses, allowing the Chiefs to focus on solving the Orlando Brown riddle, extending Juan Thornhill, and perhaps letting Frank Clark wander off in a cost-cutting move.

The Chiefs have all of their 2023 draft picks and should be able to find wide receiver and edge-rusher help in a draft class with more quantity than quality. Thanks to their top-tier talent and coaching, the Chiefs can afford to scavenge for spare parts in the draft and free-agent bargain bin while remaining on the AFC contender short list.

That’s the real Mahomes-Reid-Kelce-Jones legacy moving forward: the four of them make the Chiefs one of the NFL’s best teams, no matter who is surrounding them.

What’s Next for the Philadelphia Eagles

Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon may be officially coaching the Colts and Cardinals by the time you read this. Jason Kelce will likely retire. Fletcher Cox leads a likely-to-depart free-agent list that includes James Bradberry, Miles Sanders, and one-year service rentals such as Ndamukong Suh.

Money is tight, and Howie Roseman must budget for the Jalen Hurts extension, so while the Eagles may make runs at free agents Javon Hargrave and C.J. Gardner-Thompson, both could easily set sail.

Now the good news. The Eagles possess two first-round picks. Succession-plan youngsters like center Cam Jurgens and defensive tackle Jordan Davis are already on the payroll at key positions. Lots of core starters remain under contract and in their primes. Steichen and Gannon are fine coaches, but neither appears irreplaceable. (Gannon, in particular, was outfoxed on Sunday.) And Roseman knows the ups and downs of the long-term quarterback extension better than anyone: he’ll build something ergonomic that fits both Hurts and the Eagles.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys are in their typical state of stalling in the playoffs due to a lack of leadership and vision, the Giants are about to learn that you must go sideways to go forward, and the Commanders are a glorified tax shelter.

The 49ers, with their loaded roster and two flavors of quarterback-of-the-future, probably enter the 2023 offseason as the team to beat in the NFC. But the Eagles enter the offseason as the team that beat ’em. And everyone else outside the NFC East is either a spunky up-and-comer (Lions, Seahawks), last-year’s news (Bucs, Rams), Fraudzilla (Vikings), being held hostage by a barking madman (Packers), or just a mess.

The Eagles should have little trouble remaining near the top of that heap, and anyone who thinks Roseman cannot shepherd them through this tricky offseason hasn’t seen him work through the last five.

Walkthrough Super Bowl Sportsbook

There’s nothing like prop betting the Super Bowl! Let’s see how Walkthrough’s final action of the 2022 season played out:

First Quarter Over of 9.5 at -135

Rationale: The Chiefs led the NFL in first-quarter offensive DVOA, while the Eagles ranked third. Neither ranked in the top 10 in defense. And I love first-quarter overs in night games (even when they do not love me).

Result: Smoked this puppy before 7 p.m. Eastern time. WIN.

Travis Kelce, Most Receiving Yards at +140

Rationale: The Eagles defense ranked sixth against tight ends in 2022. But Kelce is more of an “other receiver,” and the Eagles ranked 22nd against those. Anyway, I had a hunch that Kelce would get force-fed targets while the Eagles spread the ball around more.

Result: Kelce got nicked by both DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown. LOSS.

Longest fourth-down conversion Over 2.5 yards at -130

Rationale: The Eagles attempted 13 passing plays on fourth -and-3-or-more in the regular season, the Chiefs just three. But there were a lot of paths to victory on this one, from Eagles aggressiveness to either teams’ late desperation.

Result: Second quarter. Fourth-and-5, Jalen Hurts draw for 28 yards. Woot. WIN.

Eagles to Convert a fourth down in their own territory at +300

Rationale: The Eagles only attempted five fourth-down conversions in their own territory during the regular season. But I loved the juice and the concept that Nick Sirianni would be ultra-aggressive in a Super Bowl.

Result: This one stings. You know darn well that the Eagles should have gone for fourth-and-3 from their own 32-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Instead, they punted and surrendered a long return to set up the touchdown that gave the Chiefs an eight-point lead. Sirianni blinked at the wrong time, it cost the Eagles a Super Bowl, and it cost me some dough. LOSS.

Jalen Hurts to score 2+ touchdowns at +600

Rationale: Hurts had three two-plus rushing touchdown games in the regular season and ran for touchdowns in each playoff game. This was a blatant sundae-on-the-cherry homer wager.

Result: This was not a prop I expected to pay off before halftime. But Hurts got his first touchdown after Kenneth Gainwell was stopped just short of the goal line on the opening drive and his second after the Chiefs committed a fourth-down neutral-zone infraction near the goal line late in the second quarter. Hurts finished with three rushing touchdowns, plus a two-point conversion, but I could not imagine a scenario on Sunday afternoon in which a performance like that could end in an Eagles loss. LOSS.

Game final score Over 51.5 at −110

Rationale: It was a freakin’ Chiefs-Eagles game.

Result: This, at least, was never in doubt. WIN.

Final Tally

I earned 10.64 on five units wagered. Not a bad way to offset the disappointment of an Eagles loss just a bit.

And Finally…

The neighborhood rowdies set off fireworks at about 11 p.m. despite the Eagles loss. No sense storing them next to the lawnmower gasoline, I suppose. Maybe, just maybe, they found the peace in their hearts to celebrate a thrilling season and a tremendous Super Bowl effort instead of growling about what might have been. Maybe, having seen the Eagles return to the Super Bowl after six years, fans realize that they may soon be back. Or maybe they were blowing up an effigy of Carl Cheffers, or just setting themselves ablaze.

Less than one hour after the final gun, my sportsbook app switched to Yuna Ohashi versus Yukiko Ikedo in (I’m 99% certain) women’s tennis. You cannot gamble on the past, so the sportsbooks look forever forward, not even catching their breath to reflect on what just happened.

As for me? I’m behind on my draft coverage. I have jury duty next week. The offseason crashes down with wearying finality, coupled with the disappointment with an Eagles loss that years in this business have not fully eradicated. But unlike the wagering apps, I have time to pause and reflect, if only for a moment, on the glorious spectacle of the NFL, it’s exhilarations, its faults and it’s frustrations, the journey it takes us on, and what a blessing it is to be a bit player in the drama, an extra in the background for Opening Night or on Radio Row, or at least a chronicler of the saga.

Walkthrough will be back later this week with some off-season musings, then soon after with draft coverage. But for now, let me pour one last drink, listen to the echoing fireworks, and take joy in the fact that I would have rooted for a Chiefs victory against 30 other teams, and that win or lose, I still have this chance to commune with all of you.

See you in a few days.

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