“This isn’t our standard, we want to win the Super Bowl.”
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs sound a lot like the Tom Brady-era New England Patriots. But, as Kansas City proved Sunday, it takes a lot more than regular trips to the AFC Championship Game to replicate what might be unreplicable.
The Chiefs blew a 21-3 lead on their own field, eventually watching Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals earn an overtime win and a spot in Super Bowl LVI. Mahomes submitted a rough performance, punctuating his fourth AFC title game with a fatal interception in overtime.
NFL fans and pundits understandably are eager to label Mahomes and Kansas City as the NFL’s new “dynasty.” Mahomes, 26, possesses breath-taking talent and has played in the conference title game in each of his four seasons as a starter. He’s made it to the Super Bowl twice, winning once. If nothing else, it’s easy to envision the Chiefs dominating the AFC for the next decade.
But the reality is this:
Mahomes Year 1: lost to Patriots at home in AFC title game
Mahomes Year 2: beat San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl
Mahomes Year 3: lost by 22 to Brady and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl
Mahomes Year 4: gave up an 18-point lead to Bengals in AFC title game
Of course, there’s no shame in those results. Plus, the Chiefs are closer than not to having played in four straight Super Bowls. (The Dee Ford offsides penalty certainly comes to mind.)
“You’re definitely disappointed,” Mahomes said Sunday during his postgame press conference. “When you’re this close and you’re in the final four games, you want to win the Super Bowl. … A few plays here and there, you could have four chances at the Super Bowl.”
Mahomes added: “You have to learn from it. You can’t let this end what we have here. You have to make sure you continue to battle, continue to get better and try to find ways to win Super Bowls at the end of the day.”
Pound-for-pound, the Chiefs probably have been the NFL’s best team over the last four seasons, yet they “only” have one Lombardi Trophy to show for their efforts. That’s not because they’re frauds; rather, it’s because making it to a Super Bowl — let alone winning one — is really, really hard.
New England’s overall dynasty can be split into multiple phases. Brady and the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four seasons (including two straight) in the early 2000s. New England then went nine seasons without a title despite two additional Super Bowl appearances, including the unicorn 2007 campaign. Finally, beginning with the 2014 season, the Patriots won three championships in five seasons, with a Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles mixed in.
In both bookend dynasties, New England never went multiple seasons without winning a title. Mahomes and the Chiefs now are two years removed from their Super Bowl win over the Niners. And while it certainly is off to a strong start, Kansas City has a long way to go before mirroring the consistent dominance of Brady and the Patriots, who played in 13 AFC championship games (including eight straight), made it to nine Super Bowls and won 17 division titles over 19 preposterous years.
However, we’re long past assigning unfair expectations to Mahomes and the Chiefs. They don’t need to be the Patriots of the 2000s and the 2010s to be considered among the great teams in NFL history. There simply are too many variables that can prevent athletes from achieving inherently, and remarkably, difficult things.
Perhaps it’s fitting that, on a weekend in which we learned the author of the Patriots dynasty is hanging up his cleats, we got another reminder of why what he accomplished never will be duplicated.