With Another Super Bowl Comeback, Patrick Mahomes Brightens N.F.L.’s Future
GLENDALE, Ariz. — On Thursday night, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs won his second N.F.L. Most Valuable Player Award, cementing him as the most accomplished passer of a new crop of young quarterbacks dominating the league. Three days later, he added the second Super Bowl victory of his career, throwing for 182 yards and three touchdowns to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 38-35.
The game concluded a tumultuous season for the N.F.L. in which Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed from a cardiac arrest on the field during a game and high-profile hits to Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa renewed criticisms of how the league handles players’ health, especially concussions.
Mahomes fought through the playoffs with an injury of his own, a high ankle sprain sustained in the divisional round last month that was aggravated in the second quarter Sunday.
Philadelphia dominated the first half. Yet, with Kansas City facing a 10-point deficit to begin the second half, Mahomes marshaled a resilient performance in a game noteworthy for pairing him against another emergent passer, Jalen Hurts, in the first Super Bowl contested between two Black starting quarterbacks.
In the end, Mahomes further enshrined himself as the face of the league, especially after the seven-time champion Tom Brady retired (for good, he said) 11 days before the Super Bowl.
Like Brady, Mahomes delivered a thriller, adding to the awe by seemingly shaking off another ankle injury.
With just over one minute left in the first half and Kansas City trailing by 21-14, Mahomes scrambled outside the pocket but Eagles linebacker T.J. Edwards tackled him by his right ankle. Mahomes had injured that ankle Jan. 21 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and had been compromised for the A.F.C. championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals the next week.
Mahomes said his injury rehabilitation had gone well leading into Sunday’s game, but after the Edwards tackle he lay on the ground for a few moments before limping to the sideline. Kansas City punted on the drive, leading to an Eagles field goal that extended their lead to 24-14. As Mahomes reached the bench, he took off his helmet and grimaced in distress. Until that point, he had thrown for 89 yards, including a 18-yard touchdown pass to the star tight end Travis Kelce in the first quarter.
Hurts had seemed to own the moment, propelling the Eagles in the first half with scoring runs of 1 and 4 yards and a 45-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Brown at the start of the second quarter. Since being acquired via an off-season trade with the Tennessee Titans, Brown had bolstered the Eagles’ offense and became a primary target of Hurts. He caught 11 touchdown passes — half of the scores Hurts threw — in the regular season and, on Sunday, caught six passes for 96 yards.
Their pairing had helped Hurts develop into one of the league’s best quarterbacks in his third season and second as the full-time starter. Hurts’s one mistake Sunday came with just under 10 minutes remaining in the first half, when he fumbled and Kansas City linebacker Nick Bolton returned it 36 yards for a touchdown, tying the score at 14 after the extra point.
While Hurts’s team added a star receiver, Mahomes saw a top target, the speedy Tyreek Hill, traded to Miami in the off-season. With the additions of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster in free agency, Mahomes adapted his style to look for shorter throws, which proved effective throughout the season and helped fuel Kansas City’s comeback in the second half Sunday.
On the first drive after halftime, Mahomes returned to the big-game daring that is his calling card. The rookie running back Isiah Pacheco and the undersized veteran back Jerick McKinnon ignited the offense with short bursts before Mahomes tested that ankle by scrambling for a 14-yard gain on a second down in the red zone to extend the series. The scamper seemed to embolden Mahomes against the Eagles’ stout defense before Pacheco ran in a 1-yard score to narrow Philadelphia’s lead to 3 points.
The Eagles responded with a 17-play drive that ended when Jake Elliott kicked a 33-yard field goal to give Philadelphia a 27-21 lead late in the third quarter.
With 12 minutes remaining in the game, Mahomes orchestrated a nine-play, 75-yard drive that concluded with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kadarius Toney to take a 28-27 lead.
Kansas City’s defense forced the Eagles to punt with just over 10 minutes remaining, and Toney collected the ball and wove through Philadelphia’s coverage team down the right sideline for a 65-yard gain, the longest punt return in Super Bowl history. Three plays later, Mahomes threw a 4-yard touchdown to the rookie Skyy Moore to give Kansas City a 35-27 lead with just over nine minutes remaining.
Hurts battled back, connecting with DeVonta Smith on a 46-yard pass to set up a touchdown on the series. Hurts carried in a 2-yard run, his third touchdown carry, before punching in a 2-point conversion that tied the game at 35-35 with just over five minutes remaining.
The back-and-forth affair exemplified the symmetry and parallels between the two teams. Perhaps fittingly, both coaches, Andy Reid of Kansas City and Nick Sirianni of Philadelphia, each attempted to beat teams that once employed them.
Reid coached the Eagles from 1999 to 2012, and led the team to a Super Bowl berth in the 2004 season. But the Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie fired Reid after the team posted a 4-12 record in 2012, the worst campaign in Reid’s tenure. Reid joined Kansas City just days afterward and, as part of installing a new staff, fired Sirianni, then the receivers coach.
The Eagles had controlled much of the pace of the game, possessing the ball nearly 12 minutes longer than the Chiefs did. But on Kansas City’s final drive, Mahomes controlled the clock with short passes before breaking through with a 26-yard run to position Kansas City inside the red zone with a little over two minutes remaining. The Eagles’ defense, which amassed 70 sacks during the regular season, did not record a single sack of Mahomes.
McKinnon found daylight on a first-down run from the Eagles’ 11-yard line and could have scored but tiptoed to the 2-yard line and stopped short to keep the clock running. Mahomes knelt the ball on the next two downs before Harrison Butker kicked a 27-yard field goal to provide the final score.