GLENDALE, Ariz. — With less than three minutes to go in a Super Bowl that was tied, Patrick Mahomes dropped back, surveyed the field, and did the last thing anyone who has ever had a high ankle injury thinks of doing.
He took off running.
He darted left, cut right, lowered his chin as if trying to press a zoom button on his collarbone, and outran the pursuing Philadelphia defenders for 5 yards, 10 yards, 15 yards, 20 yards, 25 yards. He finally was tackled at the Philadelphia 17-yard line and he rose with a grimace, but it was a combat grimace, and it seemed to be saying one thing:
We are not losing this game.
They didn’t. In a Super Bowl for the ages — in an era of Super Bowls for the ages — the battle between a young quarterback and an even younger quarterback, Jalen Hurts, went to the older guy, 38-35, after the drive that Mahomes extended finished with a field goal eight seconds on the clock.
“At the end of the day,” Mahomes screamed in the postgame interview on Fox, “we’re gonna be the Kansas City Chiefs!”
And Mahomes is gonna be Mahomes. On Sunday, he was everything his young legend boasted. What’s funny is that he only had the ball for eight minutes in the first half. He injured an ankle again just before halftime, limped off the field, and the announcers were speculating whether Chad Henne might have to play the second half of this championship.
But Mahomes, 27, is nothing if not resilient. The man who walks a bit like a duck and talks like Kermit the Frog ran enough like a deer to pack this Super Bowl away, win the game’s MVP award (to go with his league MVP honors), and continue the speculation over what kind of greatness we may be witnessing with this young, affable talent.
In a game that had a lot of slipping and sliding for an indoor stadium in the heat of the desert, Mahomes threw for three touchdowns on just 182 yards of passing, ran for 44 yards, and only had the ball for 24 minutes.
But he made the minutes count, none more than that mad dash late in the game that killed the dreams of the pretzel and hoagie crowd from Philadelphia, and gave Mahomes his second Super Bowl win in four years.
“The first Super Bowl was like, ‘Oh this is amazing, we won the Super Bowl!’“ he said after the victory. “It was like a little kid winning the prize at the fair …
“But I played in a Super Bowl where we got blown out … and we lost an AFC championship game in overtime. … It gives you a greater appreciation.”
In the raucous celebration on the field, his teammate and favorite target, tight end Travis Kelce, screamed at the Fox TV cameras: “MV-PAT! MV-PAT”
A Philly special early
How about that? Another great Super Bowl. This one was a horserace early on. Less than five minutes in, the Eagles were already 1 yard from the end zone. They lined up in their favorite formation, a squeezed accordion, three players behind Hurts, the others folded around him as if stuffed in a plastic bag. They snapped the ball and plowed over the Kansas City defense the way a tank goes over a paper cup. Boom. 7-0.
With that kind of power, you wondered if there’d be any stopping the Eagles. But Mahomes and the Chiefs answered with a touchdown drive that went the same distance, 75 yards, but in 100 fewer seconds. Mahomes’ laced a perfect pass to Kelce in the end zone, and tied, the score, 7-7.
We were off to the races.
Hurts would throw a 45-yard bomb to A.J. Brown, pushing the Eagles up by a touchdown. But on their next series, he fumbled trying to switch hands to escape K.C. linebacker Nick Bolton. The ball bounced in a perfect line and Bolton, who dumped Hurts, scooped up the pigskin and scampered 36 yards for a tying touchdown.
It was the kind of thing that could have rattled a 24-year-old in his first Super Bowl, maybe set him on a downward spiral, right?
Not a chance.
Hurts led the ensuing drive with the intensity of a jilted lover, making the biggest play himself on a fourth-and-5 quarterback draw that broke a tackle and went 28 yards. A few minutes later, on first-and-goal from the 4, he danced into the end zone to regain the lead, 21-14.
Hurts was steady, steely, and determined. The crowd was Philly-centric and cheering wildly. A field goal as the clock expired gave the Eagles a 10-point lead, 24-14.
“We weren’t playing with the joy we usually have,” Mahomes said. “We just challenged each other to leave everything out there.”
The biggest challenge would be his. We hadn’t yet reached the Rihanna halftime show, but it was pretty clear the die had been cast in this one:
Mahomes was the more famous quarterback, but he was going to have to be better than Hurts if he wanted to win.
Classic matchup, classic game
Now, on paper, going in, this was as close a matchup as a Super Bowl could get, a Batman-Superman clash. The Chiefs were the NFL’s No. 1 team on offense. The Eagles No. 1 on defense. The Chiefs averaged the most passing yards per game; the Eagles allowed the fewest. Mahomes won the MVP award. Hurts finished second. I mean, come on.
Both teams entered with the same lofty record (16-3). They even had the same number of points, which is sort of ridiculous. Heck, Andy Reid, the Chiefs coach, used to coach the Eagles. Nick Sirianni, the Eagles coach, used to work for the Chiefs. It’s a good thing they wore different colored jerseys. Otherwise these teams could have ended up in the other one’s locker room.
Thus the game had all the earmarks of a “Transformers” movie, where two metallic behemoths wail on each other for hours. It was just a question of which hunk of metal would dent first. Would the Chiefs fall victim to the insane Philadelphia pass rush, which featured four guys who had 10 or more sacks this year? Or would the Philly defense be as confounded by Mahomes’ circus show as the other teams that fell at his feet this year?
It looked as if the game had tilted late in the first half, when Mahomes, on an ill-advised scramble, gotten taken down by the ankles and hobbled off the field in obvious pain. Fans wondered if he’d be able to return.
But return he did. Whatever they did in that locker room worked.
“It’s the Super Bowl,” Mahomes said. “You worry about getting it healthy in the offseason.”
Meanwhile, Reid gave Mahomes more than any tape or injection could do. Ever the master at halftime adjustments, Reid obviously saw some things he could exploit. Kansas City, stifled so much in the first 30 minutes, would end up scoring on every drive in the second half. Mahomes got it started, steering his squad 75 yards in five and a half minutes, including a 14-yard run by that pretty much proved his ankle wasn’t a problem.
A Philly field goal brought the score to 27-21, and that’s where we entered the fourth quarter. Honestly, you rubbed your eyes. After all that dominance by the Eagles offense, Kansas City was somewhere still right there.
That’s what they do.
Mahomes began spraying the ball here and there, short passes, quick hits, and pow! Next thing you knew, he hit Kadarius Toney in the flat, wide open — an embarrassing defensive gap by Philly — and he pranced into the end zone for the Chiefs first lead of the day.
With 12 minutes left in the Super Bowl, the Eagles trailed by a point, 28-27.
And this is where Philly’s dream began to crumble. Hurts couldn’t escape the K.C. pressure on the ensuing drive and the Eagles had to punt. Maybe there was a reason they hadn’t done that much all night. Arryn Siposs sent a low line drive kick off to Toney, who minutes earlier had been dancing into the end zone. This time he took the ball, bounced off a couple guys and cut back to his right. Suddenly there was a wall of white jerseys ready to block for him, and nobody in green to stop him. The Chiefs stormed downfield all the way to the Philly 5-yard line. It was the longest punt return in Super Bowl history, 65 yards.
A few plays later, Reid embarrassed the Philly defense once again, calling the same play as the previous touchdown, but this time using a special teams punt returner named Skyy Moore, who wandered off the line wide open and took another Mahomes pass into the end zone, for a 35-27 lead.
But if you thought Philly was Phinished, you haven’t watched enough Super Bowls. There’s a freakishly consistent drama lately to these games. And so, moments after Kansas City’s celebration, Hurts unloaded a bomb to a wide-open DeVonta Smith, 45 yards, down to the K.C. 2-yard line. How Smith got so wide open is a mystery, but there was no guessing what play Philly would call next.
Here came the rugby scrum again, and Hurts surfed the green wave into the end zone.
What followed was perhaps the gutsiest call of all for Philly. Needing two to tie, the Eagles went to Hurts again, and this time, minus the supporting cast of 300 pounders, the quarterback plowed through defenders and got the points.
Just over five minutes left, and the Super Bowl was tied, 35-35.
But Mahomes has been here before. You could argue that K.C. won this Super Bowl because their path here prepared them for it. They scraped to beat Jacksonville in their first playoff game, and they needed a last-second field goal to squeak past Cincinnati for the AFC crown.
Mahomes, in his element, led them on the 12-play, game-winning drive, managing the clock beautifully, and making that 26-yard hard run that broke the backs of the Philly defense.
Welcome to the club
In a certain way, this game was destined to be about the quarterbacks. Most Super Bowls are. But Mahomes and Hurts represented more than just elite talent, or the first two Black quarterbacks to go head-to-head in a Super Bowl. With the exception of the game three years ago, when Mahomes countered a 28-year-old Jimmy Garoppolo, there hasn’t been a Super Bowl that didn’t feature at least one 30-plus quarterback in a long time. It’s been Matthew Stafford or Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Matt Ryan — or Tom Brady a bunch more times.
Now Brady, like Manning, is retired, Ryan is a shadow, Aaron Rodgers appears to be watching his window close, and the league is suddenly about Mahomes and Hurts and Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, the oldest of which (Mahomes) won’t hit 30 until 2025, the youngest (Hurts) not until 2028.
So we’re playing in a sandbox now, exuberance and agility over experience and vision, and it’s exciting, refreshing, good for the league and good for the game. Sunday was Mahomes’ time to shine. But Hurts almost pulled off an incredible feat. He was magnificent all night, minus a fumble that he lost that cost his team seven points. He finished 27-for-38 for 304 yards and touchdown, and led his team in rushing with 70 yards and three TDs. Had the Eagles pulled this out, he would have been the MVP unanimously.
“It hurts,” Hurts admitted afterwards. “It is a tough feeling to come up short, but the only direction is to rise.”
He will be heard from again. Soon.
Thus ends an NFL year that saw a ton of surprises — the defending champion L.A. Rams winning just five games, Brady knocked into retirement, Rodgers not even making the postseason and locking himself in a dark room, Trevor Lawrence and Jacksonville winning their division and reaching the playoffs’ second week, and the last player taken in the draft, Brock Purdy, almost leading San Francisco to the Super Bowl.
But in the end, the Big Game was with the biggest two teams, who earned their marquee status, and the biggest two quarterbacks, whose names deserved to above the title. The winner of the night, this time, was the older guy, who has tasted this nectar before but had to wait a little while to get back to the chalice. No wonder he ran, bum ankle and all, to get there. Given all that was on the line, wouldn’t you?
“It was a crazy year,” Mahomes said, before leaving the podium. “But we ended up on top. We can’t ask for anything more.”
Until next year starts, that is.