Patrick Mahomes won't win NFL MVP this season. He didn't deserve it based on his regular season. That's probably OK with him, given that the Kansas City Chiefs are going back to the Super Bowl.
It doesn't matter anymore if the Chiefs show out in the regular season. When they get to the playoffs, they have Mahomes, and that makes them tough to beat. The Chiefs are going to their fourth Super Bowl in five seasons after Mahomes had an excellent first half and Kansas City's defense did the rest Sunday in a 17-10 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
The Chiefs had not played a true road playoff game with Mahomes before this season. This postseason, the Chiefs went on the road and beat the Buffalo Bills and Ravens in consecutive weeks, adding even more chapters to Mahomes' legacy and their own growing dynasty.
The Ravens weren't overrated, and neither was Lamar Jackson. The Ravens were great all season, and Jackson deserves the MVP he'll get in two weeks. But Mahomes is the one current quarterback you want if you absolutely need to win a big game. The Chiefs looked like less than themselves most of the season. They lost six games, including to the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders. The offense was questioned for not having enough star power. But in the end, it didn't matter. Kansas City was great when it needed to be.
For Jackson and the Ravens, it's a disappointing end to a fantastic season. But that's life in the AFC in the Mahomes era. If you're trying to get to a Super Bowl when Mahomes is still in his prime, you're going to be disappointed more often than not.
Patrick Mahomes starts fast
On the Chiefs' first drive of the game, it was clear that Mahomes was locked in.
Mahomes completed all five of his passes on the first drive, including a great fourth-down throw to the middle of the field to Travis Kelce and a finely tuned, back-shoulder throw to Kelce for a 19-yard touchdown.
Mahomes didn't miss in the first quarter. He hit all 10 of his passes and his first in the second. The 11 straight completions to start a conference championship game were the most since Rich Gannon in 2002, according to CBS. And it wasn't just the completions that were impressive but also the degrees of difficulty.
Mahomes was excellent on third and fourth down Sunday, often turning absolutely nothing into a big play.
Jackson will soon win his second MVP, which will tie Mahomes, but he couldn't keep up with the Chiefs' quarterback. Jackson was just 5-of-12 for 67 yards in the first half, and 13 yards came on a wild completion to himself. The Chiefs had 221 yards before halftime, and the Ravens had just 110.
Mahomes went up against a Ravens defense that was the best in the NFL in the regular season, and he completely dominated the first half. The Chiefs led 17-7. Baltimore had chances to come back in the second half, but it couldn't make winning plays like its opponent.
Ravens can't come back
The Ravens' defense made some adjustments and got to Mahomes a few times. The Chiefs' offense slowed way down in the second half. But the Ravens couldn't take advantage. The Chiefs' defense deserves credit for that.
The Ravens had a chance to cut the Chiefs' lead to to 17-14 early in the fourth quarter, but rookie receiver Zay Flowers had a sequence he'll have a tough time living down. Flowers had a 54-yard catch but took a bad taunting penalty at the end of it. That moved the Ravens back 15 yards. Flowers had a chance to score a touchdown to make up for it but dove, and Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Sneed — whom Flowers taunted at the end of his long catch — punched it out, and Kansas City recovered in the end zone. Flowers then cut his hand hitting the bench in frustration, according to CBS.
It seemed like the Ravens panicked early when Mahomes had that first impressive scoring drive. They completely abandoned the run game. Ravens running backs had four attempts all half, despite not trailing by more than a single score until Harrison Butker kicked a 52-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half. Baltimore didn't play like itself all game.
The Ravens had their chances. With 6:45 left and the ball at the Chiefs' 25, Jackson threw into triple-coverage to the end zone, and safety Deon Bush made an easy interception. The turnovers by Flowers and Jackson in the fourth quarter were huge reasons Baltimore lost. The Ravens had one final shot to get the ball back trailing 17-10, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught a long third-down pass from Mahomes just before the two-minute warning to seal the AFC title for Kansas City.
Jackson is in for another year of hearing about how he can't win the big one. He will have two MVPs but no Super Bowl appearances.
That's due in part to Mahomes. Much like when Michael Jordan ruled the NBA or Tom Brady was making the Super Bowl just about every year, there won't be many opportunities for other teams in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl as long as Mahomes is in his prime.