Rebuilding Patriots should find a clear lesson in Chiefs' title run

Rebuilding Patriots should find a clear lesson in Chiefs' title run originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Patriots were about as far from Super Bowl 58 as any team, but there was a lesson to be learned as their new leadership watched Patrick Mahomes take the Chiefs to their third title in the last five years Sunday night: A great quarterback can be enough to take down even the most loaded and well-balanced rosters.

The Niners lost in overtime, 25-22, despite having two unanimous first-team All-Pros this season in running back Christian McCaffrey and linebacker Fred Warner. They had three more first-teamers in left tackle Trent Williams, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight end George Kittle. Receiver Brandon Aiyuk and corner Charvarius Ward were both second-team All-Pros.

Quarterback Brock Purdy didn't get an All-Pro nod, but he led the league in quarterback rating and yards per attempt in 2023, thanks in part to being surrounded by one of the most talented rosters in the game.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, had two first-team All-Pros playing Sunday in corner Trent McDuffie and defensive tackle Chris Jones. (Their lone offensive first- or second-teamer, Joe Thuney, was out injured).

But Kansas City also had Mahomes, who now has more career postseason wins than Peyton Manning, Terry Bradshaw, John Elway and Troy Aikman. His 15 playoff victories trails only Joe Montana (16) and Tom Brady (35).

The Chiefs' 28-year-old three-time champ was at his best late on Sunday. He scrambled for eight yards on a key fourth-and-1 snap in overtime. He stared down a blitz and hit rookie Rashee Rice for 13 yards on third and six. Three plays later, he scrambled for 19 yards on third-and-1. About 90 seconds after that, Mahomes rolled right and hit Mecole Hardman for the game-winning touchdown.

It was far from the flashiest of finishes for Mahomes. But it was exactly what Kansas City needed. Clean football. Timely plays. Smart decisions in the biggest moments.

What's it all mean for the Patriots?

They won't find another Mahomes in this year's draft. But if they feel as though a true franchise quarterback is there with the third overall pick, they have to pounce -- even if they feel it could be a rough Year 1 for the rookie thanks to a roster that is devoid of high-end offensive talent.

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There simply aren't enough opportunities to find those types of players. And with Mahomes poised to dominate the AFC for the next decade or so -- he's 28 years old -- landing a quarterback who has a chance to push him has to be the focus of any team that hopes to compete with him in the conference. The only passers who've beaten him in the postseason are Tom Brady (twice) and Joe Burrow.

It's a small sample, 75 minutes of football. But Super Bowl 58 was 75 minutes of football in February, where strengths and flaws are exposed for the world to see. And what the world witnessed was one quarterback with the ability to overcome his team's mistakes and one who couldn't.

Both the Niners and Chiefs fumbled inside their opponent's 10-yard line, wiping points off the board. Both teams turned it over twice. Both teams committed six penalties. Both teams struggled to run the ball with their backs -- the Niners rushed for 90 yards on 25 attempts (3.6 per carry), while the Chiefs picked up 59 yards on 19 runs (3.1 per carry).

One team had Mahomes. One didn't.

That's not to say Purdy played poorly. He simply wasn't at his counterpart's level in critical situations. He completed 61 percent of his passes for 6.7 yards per attempt and a touchdown. He wasn't intercepted and he was sacked just once.

But there was one snap -- on third-and-4 just after the two-minute warning -- that may have highlighted Purdy's shortcomings. The Chiefs sent an all-out blitz and San Francisco didn't pick up McDuffie's pressure. Purdy couldn't elude him, he couldn't find Aiyuk open quickly enough (McDuffie left Aiyuk to be picked up by a deep safety), his attempt to Jauan Jennings was batted down, and the Niners were forced to punt.

In overtime, the Chiefs sent the house again with the Niners looking at a third-and-4 situation on the Kansas City 9-yard line. Purdy was under immediate pressure, threw off his back foot, and his pass sailed wildly out of bounds.

The Chiefs' plan was clear defensively. Load up against McCaffrey and the Niners running game, then send pressure in obvious passing situations to see how Purdy would handle it.

49ers quarterback Brock Purdy
Brock Purdy was solid in Super Bowl LVIII, but he simply wasn't at Patrick Mahomes' level in critical situations.

The Niners are now left to wonder what becomes of their roster with a handful of stars set to be paid massive contracts. Odds are coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch can figure out how to keep a chunk of their core intact, particularly while Purdy plays out the rest of his modest rookie contract.

But, again highlighting the value of a next-level quarterback, Mahomes had the largest cap hit in the NFL this season ($37 million). The Chiefs saved money at receiver with Rice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman playing key roles at one of the modern game's most valuable positions alongside a good-but-past-his-prime tight end Travis Kelce. They still ended up with the Lombardi Trophy.

The Niners have been finding game-changing players in the draft for years now. And finding them in places where game-changers aren't typically found. They landed Kittle in the fifth round back in 2017. They found Warner in the third. Samuel was a second-rounder. Purdy was famously Mr. Irrelevant two years ago.

While New England won't be finding one of the best quarterbacks the game has ever seen with their first-round pick this year, the odds of them striking gold all up and down the draft the way the Niners have seems almost as unlikely.

Their roster may be in shambles. And there is some merit to the idea of the Patriots filling out a team around the quarterback position before dropping one into their offense.

But the lesson to take away from Sunday night is that if head coach Jerod Mayo and personnel chief Eliot Wolf see a franchise quarterback fall to them at No. 3 in the spring, they need to act.

Nothing is more valuable. Ready or not.