For about 50 minutes inside Arrowhead Stadium late Sunday, the Chiefs resembled the franchise that put its fans through 25 years of frustration and heartbreak here. Like the teams that spent regular seasons offering hope, only to play a what-could-go-wrong-will-go-wrong game at the worst possible time.
Like the old Chiefs.
But there is one not-so-tiny difference between those teams and the one that embarked on a third straight Super Bowl run Sunday.
This one has the guy who can pull his very best from his very worst. A guy who can seemingly flip a game as fast as you can flip a switch.
This one has Patrick Mahomes.
“The thing that is so great about him,” coach Andy Reid said, “is that he doesn’t let things get to him.”
The Chiefs were awful for a quarter Sunday before pulling away for a convincing 42-21 win against the Steelers in the AFC Wild Card Round. That’s not overstating it. They did not score on any of their initial five drives, and one of their possessions led to the only Steelers score of the first half — T.J. Watt scooped up a fumble and rolled 26 yards for a 7-0 lead.
Isn’t that the kind of moment that could have stuck in your mind for years? The Andrew Luck fumble for a touchdown. The Marcus Mariota pass to himself. The Mecole Hardman and Darrel Williams double fumble on a play in which Hardman lined up as a quarterback.
Fits right in, no?
“I think we were all pissed at ourselves,” Mahomes said.
It’s these moments that have been reserved for Mahomes’ speeches in the past — Let’s go do something special is planted on T-shirts and worn at Arrowhead Stadium. That talk came on the sideline during the playoff comeback against Houston two years ago.
On Sunday, though, the conversation wasn’t isolated to Mahomes. He didn’t anticipate the team waiting on him for a fiery speech. And perhaps that says more.
They already knew.
They have that guy.
“There is a calm to it,” Reid said. “When somebody is hanging their head or moping around, that’s never a positive thing, especially when you’re in a leadership position. He never goes that direction. It doesn’t matter if he makes the mistake or somebody else makes the mistake. He goes, ‘We’re coming back and gonna get after you.’”
And once he did, the Chiefs just kept coming. Scoreless on their first five possessions, they scored touchdowns on their next six. Mahomes threw five of them in a span of 10 minutes and 31 seconds — after having nothing go his way.
“We showed that we can always be explosive. That’s who we are,” Mahomes said. “We’re going to make big plays happen if we get the looks. I think over this season, we’ve learned to be patient as well, so to be able to do both of those things is what it’s going to take for us to get to where we want to get to.”
The Chiefs will need to be better to get back there, to reach a third consecutive Super Bowl. Or at least play more consistently. Five straight drives without a score is likely to get them beat against a much better Bills team than the Steelers outfit they just tossed aside.
But for a stretch of two quarters Sunday, they supplied the rest of the league a warning shot — the quality that carried them to a Super Bowl two years ago has manifested itself already in these playoffs.
The Chiefs are never buried. In fact, it appears they’re most dangerous when you think they are buried. Because that’s when their quarterback is most dangerous.
Or, as Mahomes put it:
“It’s my favorite time of year,” he said. “The playoffs.”