If the Raiders had any thoughts about sweeping the Chiefs this season when they took a three-point lead with 1:43 left in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, they didn’t last very long. Las Vegas played as well it could on offense and defense to beat Kansas City in Week 11, except for leaving too much time on the clock for Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes avenged his only loss of 2020 — the worst loss of his brilliant young NFL career — with the best fourth-quarter drive of his career. Had he let the Chiefs lose and get outdueled by Derek Carr, they would have been staring at a precarious one-game lead in the AFC West. Instead, the division is wrapped up again as KC holds a three-game lead with six games remaining following a 35-31 victory. Along with that, one might as well call the AFC championship race over and fast-forward to the Chiefs repeating in Super Bowl 55.
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With all the magic that has quickly stuffed his resume, that was the first go-ahead, game-winning two-minute drill of Mahomes’ career. To be fair, Mahomes is so good for 58 minutes of most games that he doesn’t need to dig the Chiefs out of a deficit late. The most impressive part of what he did at the end in Week 11 is that it was more methodical than miraculous.
There was never any doubt Mahomes would a.) Succeed on his final possession and b,) Not settle for a game-tying field-goal attempt. It took only six pass plays in 1:15 — with one incompletion and a timeout in between — to crush the Raiders’ hopes and dreams. There was nothing fluky or spectacular — he just used strikes to his co-go-to guys, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, to start and finish the march to the end zone.
The Raiders are the ones who don the Silver and Black with shades of the Empire, but you can bet that with every Mahomes dropback, they were surrounded by the ominous tones of the “Imperial March.” The other AFC playoff contenders who are trying to dethrone the champs had to hear it, too.
The Chiefs’ defense couldn’t stop Carr, who was having the best game of his career (23-of-31 passing, 275 yards. three TDs) at the most critical time for his playoff-hopeful team. The Raiders were trying their darnedest to replicate the ball-control-and-big-pass-play formula that allowed them to pull off their shocking 40-32 upset in Arrowhead six weeks earlier. Heck, they even intercepted Mahomes again — the only team to do so this season — in the red zone and before halftime, no less.
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The Raiders had some success on defense with zone coverage. They had some success with man coverage. They had some success with blitzes. But when Carr hit Jason Witten for the go-ahead score at 1:43, no one on the planet would have bet on Las Vegas having just made the game-winning play.
There should have been the stark realization by the Raiders that the only way to get the better of Mahomes is to hope for a mistake. They got one late in Week 5 and they got one early in Week 11. But the problem is that when Mahomes is having his version of NFL failure — a minor setback — he comes back doubly dangerous and more focused with his lasers.
Remember when the 49ers’ defense was holding Mahomes down in Super Bowl 54? They couldn’t make that last for more than three quarters. The Texans and Titans are still figuring out how their playoff leads evaporated so fast.
Mahomes is taking the phenom who exploded into NFL MVP in Year 2 and the gritty veteran leader of Year 3 and blending them into a whole different superhuman. He’s no longer trying to prove he’s the best young QB ever, or far better than any QB now. He’s competing with himself, almost thriving on creating new challenges that make him sharper.
You can go on breaking down the Chiefs’ defensive flaws and their sometimes undisciplined play on both sides of the ball. But all that is moot because they are armed with the ultimate weapon who can overcome anything.
Mahomes’ magic against the Raiders came with an underlying message: If you play the Chiefs with him at QB, you would be extremely lucky to win once and would have no chance of doing it twice.
Guess that’s a shred of good news for the 10-0 Steelers, who don’t have to play the Chiefs until the playoffs. Just like no one thought the Raiders would hold that lead, no one thinks Pittsburgh should be considered the AFC favorite over Kansas City, despite the records.
Mahomes will be motivated to collect new merit badges in upcoming weeks, which is downright scary. You bet he will be eager to beat the GOAT, Tom Brady, in Tampa in Week 12 to even the head-to-head mark at 2-2. Looking a little farther ahead, there’s a Week 15 trip to New Orleans to face that other NFC South power, the Saints, just when Drew Brees is expected back.
Those games shouldn’t sound easy at all, but Mahomes already makes them feel that way, like it’s some passing-the-torch ritual he’s supposed to go through to be blessed with more Super Bowl rings. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers or Saints, teams that might get his number during the regular season, you know Mahomes won’t lose a potential rematch with much higher stakes.
No NFL team is unbeatable, and the Chiefs’ record vs. the Raiders this season shows that. With Mahomes, however, storybook endings to games like Sunday night and future Super Bowls seem more inevitable, much like LeBron James getting to the NBA Finals and Brady getting to AFC championship games.
There are clutch quarterbacks, and then there’s Mahomes. He won’t let the Chiefs lose a meaningful game the rest of the way in their Super Bowl defense, and he will keep making it look as easy as M-V-P. The Raiders were the latest team to learn that lesson. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out who will be the last.