Patrick Mahomes is off to the best start in NFL history
Among QBs in their first six seasons as NFL starters (yes, even Tom Brady), the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback is without peer
LAS VEGAS – On Sunday, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs will add another milestone to the greatest start ever for an NFL quarterback.
Let that sink in.
Regardless of the outcome of Super Bowl LVIII between the Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium, Mahomes is already second to none in accomplishments among all passers in league history through their first six seasons starting. Having attained so many of his goals at only 28, Mahomes has set a new standard for excellence.
In doing so, Mahomes has completed a feat that was once considered unfathomable: He eclipsed, within the same career snapshot, the achievements of famed quarterback Tom Brady. While playing for the New England Patriots, Brady held the wunderkind title.
But no more.
Make no mistake, Brady – who won an astonishing seven Super Bowl championships in his illustrious 23-year career – remains the most successful quarterback overall. Only time will tell where Mahomes winds up on the all-time list.
However, the Chiefs’ superstar leader has youth on his side, and it has served him well.
“With the exception of Tom Brady, you just don’t think of anyone doing the things he [Mahomes] has done.” — Warren Moon
Many legendary quarterbacks are in awe of Mahomes. Doug Williams is at the front of the line.
Williams, the first Black quarterback to start in the Super Bowl and win the game’s MVP award, doesn’t need to know all the details of Mahomes’ sparkling résumé. For Williams, the eye test will suffice.
“When I look at Patrick play, when I see him lead his teammates and do whatever it takes to win, I know what I’m seeing, I’m seeing greatness,” Williams told Andscape in a phone interview last week. “Even if I didn’t know about all of the Super Bowls, and the MVP awards and the championships, I would know I’m seeing something we haven’t seen before.
“So then if someone told me about everything he’s done, everything he’s accomplished in this game so fast, I wouldn’t be surprised. It all would make sense to me because I see the way he throws the football, and I see the way he responds to those big situations when you know all your guys are looking at you to make that play.
“And I see the fun he has and how much he loves this game. He usually has a smile on his face, and he’s cool no matter what’s going on around him out there. You have to love what you do to do it as well as he does, and all you have to do is watch Patrick play to see the love he has for the game. For Patrick to be so young and do all of this … it’s really something to see.”
Warren Moon agrees with his friend.
Since Mahomes entered the league as the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick in 2017, Moon, the only Black quarterback enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has studied his game closely. From watching Mahomes work early in his second NFL season and first as a starter, Moon figured the young man would succeed. But what Mahomes has produced thus far is, well, downright amazing, Moon said.
“It’s not just that most guys, in the whole history of the league, don’t accomplish in a career what he has accomplished already, it’s also the way he has done it,” Moon said in a phone interview after the visiting Chiefs defeated the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional playoffs.
“Just the consistency each year to reach the highest levels in the playoffs, to win consistently at the most important time, really sets him apart. With the exception of Tom Brady, you just don’t think of anyone doing the things he has done.”
To reach the top, Mahomes had to clear a high bar set by Brady.
In his first six seasons as the Patriots’ starter, Brady guided them to three Super Bowl championships. Additionally, Brady was selected to play in three Pro Bowls. And he won two Super Bowl MVP awards. Only 27 by the time those achievements were in his file, Brady became the yardstick by which all young NFL quarterbacks were measured.
Until Mahomes established a new one.
Also only 27 on the night of his second Super Bowl championship, Mahomes began his still-nascent career by scaling the mountain even faster than Brady. Although Brady had one more Super Bowl title than Mahomes through the same points in their NFL experiences, Mahomes’ combination of team and individual honors reset the bar on how excellence is measured for young players at the most important position in team sports.
Just like Brady, Mahomes had twice been selected the MVP of the Super Bowl. Unlike Brady, though, Mahomes had five Pro Bowl appearances on his résumé. He owned two Associated Press NFL MVP awards. Twice selected as a first-team All-Pro, Mahomes also earned an AP Offensive Player of the Year award. For Brady, the aforementioned individual honors would come later in his career.
From the moment Mahomes became the Chiefs’ leader, they never failed to reach the AFC Championship Game and hosted it five straight seasons to boot, a right earned by being the highest-seeded team at that juncture of the playoffs. No other team in NFL history – not even the august Patriots with Brady at the controls – could claim that distinction.
Of all of Mahomes’ successes, Moon marvels at his record in the playoffs most.
“Think about this: Patrick has gone to six straight AFC Championship Games. Six. Most people, most fans, don’t understand how hard it is to accomplish that,” Moon said. “But let me tell you, it’s incredibly hard to do that.
“Since he has been [the Chiefs’ starter], the Chiefs have at least gotten to the conference’s biggest game each year. It sounds crazy to even say it. But they’ve actually done it. And that quarterback is a big reason for it.”
Of course, all players suffer setbacks. Even Brady experienced disappointment in the playoffs, and Mahomes has as well.
With Mahomes behind center, the Chiefs have lost twice in the AFC Championship Game on their home field: 37-31 in overtime in 2019 to Brady and the Patriots, and 27-24 (the Chiefs held a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter) in overtime in 2022 to Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. With a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions, the Chiefs, whose offensive line was decimated by injuries, lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were in their first season being led by Brady, 31-9 in Super Bowl LV.
Since the Chiefs’ inexplicable collapse against the Bengals, they’re 6-0 in the playoffs. In those games, Mahomes has completed 70% of his passes (142 of 203) for 1,421 passing yards with 11 passing touchdowns and no interceptions.
How one responds after failing tells James “Shack” Harris a whole lot.
The first Black quarterback to start a season opener as well as the first to start and win an NFL playoff game, Harris was named to the Pro Bowl in 1974. Also a longtime NFL player-personnel executive, the long-retired Harris is most impressed with Mahomes’ mettle.
“What you have to have to be great, to be special, is to play quarterback with instinct and toughness,” Harris said in a phone interview. “It’s not something you can teach. You’ve just got to have that. He does. And that combination has helped him have so much success so fast.”
Faster than anyone ever. Where Mahomes ultimately ranks all-time won’t be determined until he finishes a race that he’s still running. But on the legs he has completed, records have been smashed.