HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes is a much different quarterback than he was four years ago, when he helped the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl to end a championship drought stretching back five decades.
He's a different man, for that matter, a father of two these days with different priorities in life.
Sometimes the two intersect, one job making him better at the other.
“I think you learn a ton being a father, man. You learn how to be patient,” said Mahomes, who will lead the AFC champion Chiefs into a Super Bowl rematch against the NFC champion 49ers on Sunday. “You learn how to try to really boost people's confidence, especially your kids. Through seasons like I've had this last year, it's never losing hope, never going too negative in adverse times. Just continue to boost people's confidence, continue to strive for hard work and really be patient.”
Mahomes' patience certainly has been put to the test this season.
He watched his wide receivers drop more passes than any team in the NFL, and the rest of the Kansas City offense commit more penalties than any team but one. He had to choke back his angst — sometimes successfully, other times not so much — when a missed call by the officials may have cost the Chiefs a game. And he had to finally accept the fact that defenses simply were not going to let him chuck the ball all over the field anymore, and that his sandlot-style of play had to change.
In some ways, Mahomes had to reinvent himself, becoming what he once seemed to loath: a game manager.
Unlike that championship run four years ago, or the two Super Bowls since that earned Mahomes a second ring, the Chiefs this season did not rely entirely on their offense to carry them. They had the No. 2 scoring defense in the NFL, which had to bail out Mahomes' side of the ball when it was struggling so mightily midway through the season.
So while he can still make the audacious no-look throw, or throw that wizardly rocket through double coverage, he also learned to check down to running backs when deep shots were covered. He accepted that audibles to running plays when defenses stacked the line of scrimmage were OK. Mahomes even learned that he could take a sack when it was most beneficial to keep the clock running, which he did in the AFC championship game in Baltimore.
“I think guys understood," Mahomes said upon reflection, “that we could play a different way to win football games.”
Sounds like a quarterback that has learned a few things in six years as a starter.
“He's the catalyst. He’s the reason why we’re here and why we’re able to keep coming back to back,” said tight end Travis Kelce, perhaps Mahomes' closest friend on the team. “And honestly, he just gives his team a certain sense of urgency and confidence that we can go and get it done, and that goes a long way.”
Mahomes has always been mature beyond his years, even if he didn't always possess the patience that comes with experience. He almost had to be, because growing up, Mahomes was so much better than other kids his own age that he would usually have to play against older ones, whether that was in football, basketball or his first love, baseball.
The son of longtime big league pitcher Pat Mahomes recalled that one time, during a T-ball game, a grounder was hit toward him at shortstop. Most kids at that level would throw a looping rainbow to first base, but he sent a laser across the diamond.
“It hit the kid right in the face and broke his glasses,” Mahomes said with a smile, “and so they told me after that they wanted me to roll the ball to first base, and I ended up just playing first base and catching it from then on.”
Good thing for the Chiefs he didn't fall in love with catching balls.
Then again, maybe he would have been a heck of a wide receiver.
“I mean, I always just loved sports from the beginning,” Mahomes said, "all sports. I loved watching. I love playing. I mean, I remember my mom used to get mad at me, because I would throw — like, you know, kids throw the ball off the wall? I'd throw it off the TV, because I was watching TV at the same time, and she used to get real mad that I was doing that."
The dad in Mahomes — his daughter, Sterling, is 2, while his son, Bronze, turned 1 in November — might better understand where Mama Mahomes was coming from back in those days.
While much has changed for Mahomes over the past few years, much has remained the same. He's still one of the best QBs to play the game. Still putting up big numbers every time he steps on the field. And still a fierce competitor, as evidenced by a game against Buffalo, when he roared up and down the sideline after an offsides call cost Kansas City a go-ahead touchdown.
“We don't take him for granted,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We know we're seeing something special."
Reid points out that Mahomes is still “young in this business,” just 28 years old. And for all his success, Mahomes has only been a starting quarterback for a short while, and he could have more than a decade of playing still ahead of him.
“It's humbling,” Mahomes said, “because I never thought I would be in this many Super Bowl games, honestly. I mean, you strive to be great, but you understand how hard it is to even be in this game. And for us to be in my fourth one, it truly is remarkable, and I don't take it for granted, because you never know if you're going to be able to be back in this game.”
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