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Patrick Mahomes’ growth as a quarterback helped drive Kansas City Chiefs to Super Bowl LVII

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Mahomes is so talented that it’s easy to take his own maturation for granted. After all, he won the NFL MVP award in his first year as a starter, in 2018, at the age of 23. He won the Super Bowl in his second season under center — and as he famously admitted on the HBO show The Shop, he couldn’t truly read defenses until halfway through that 2019 campaign. He even suffered through a maddening stretch in 2021, when he threw 10 interceptions in his first 10 games while relentlessly searching for big plays.

This isn’t the same Mahomes we’re seeing now. He’s on the verge of winning his second MVP at the age of 27 because his game has elevated to another level. He lost the most electric receiver in football in Tyreek Hill, who was traded away last offseason, and he spent most of this year acclimating himself to a collection of largely unheralded talents. The end result was a spectacular effort — Mahomes led the league in passing yards (5,250) and touchdowns (41) — and definitive evidence that the next chapter of his career might be even more impressive than the first.

“He’s just so locked in right now, and it has not changed, literally, from when I first got here in OTAs,” said Matt Nagy, the Chiefs’ senior offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach, ahead of Kansas City’s Divisional Round playoff win over Jacksonville. “But when I really noticed it was training camp and then from Day 1, Week 1 until now, he’s not changing. He is very, very focused on our opponent. He’s very focused on staying within the system and doing what he does best (and) not losing what he ad-libs on.”

This season has been filled with numerous moments that exemplify how clearly Mahomes is seeing the game he loves playing. You can look at a Thursday Night Football win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2, when Mahomes eluded a heavy rush, stepped up in the pocket, saw Chargers safety Nasir Adderley jump a crossing route and then launched a 41-yard touchdown pass to Justin Watson. Mahomes was equally magical in a Week 14 win over Denver, as he scrambled toward the sideline to extend a pass play, found a Broncos defender racing towards him and then slung the ball underhand to running back Jerick McKinnon, who ran untouched for a 56-yard score. That was the kind of breathtaking moment that’s normally created by high-level NBA point guards on fast breaks.

What’s even more jaw-dropping is how Mahomes has operated when his legs have been compromised. He sprained his right ankle late in the first quarter of that playoff matchup with Jacksonville. Ever since that point — when he talked his way back onto the field — he’s been shredding defenses from the pocket. Mahomes threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals, and he did that despite losing three of his best receivers during the game (JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney and Mecole Hardman).

Mahomes has been doing amazing things for five years. The difference now is that he’s doing them in subtle ways that still leave a huge impact on the game. “He’s just a competitive person,” said Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, when asked ahead of the AFC title game about Mahomes playing so well on that injured ankle. “He’s a competitive player. It’s the intestinal fortitude that’s in him. He just refuses to accept that he’s not going to put himself out there to be with his teammates. You love that about him.”

Smith-Schuster, who is in his first season playing with Mahomes after signing with the Chiefs last March, had this to say heading into the playoffs: “My family or friends are like, ‘Oh my God, how’s Patrick Mahomes?’ and I’m like, ‘He’s just a special individual.’ From myself, it’s just like playing (the) Madden (video game). Back then, when you had Michael Vick, (you could) just run all over the field and then launch it 80 yards down the field. It’s kind of like that but for me, it’s IRL — in real life.”

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