The 2019 NFL regular season was the year of Lamar Jackson. Just as in 2018, a second-year signal-caller took the NFL by storm. The Baltimore Ravens' Jackson set the single-season NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,206) and became the first player at his position to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same year on the way to a 14-2 campaign and the AFC's No. 1 seed.
Jackson is a shoo-in to be named the league's Most Valuable Player at the NFL Honors the day before the Super Bowl.
The 2019-2020 NFL postseason has been all about the upstart Tennessee Titans. America loves an underdog, and after beating both Tom Brady's New England Patriots and Jackson's Ravens on the road to reach the AFC Championship Game, the Titans were the darlings of fans far and wide.
Well, Jackson will watch the Super Bowl on television. So will the Titans, after they fell 35-24 to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The win sends the Chiefs to the Super Bowl for the first time in a half century, and it hammered home a fact that in retrospect we all should have known.
Jackson may be the MVP this season, but Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the game.
Arrowhead was also the venue for last year's AFC title tilt—a game that the Chiefs lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Patriots in overtime. As Jason Reid wrote for The Undefeated earlier this week, Mahomes hadn't forgotten the business they left unfinished last year.
"Being in the AFC hampionship, we're going to put the pressure on ourselves to find a way to win it," Mahomes said. "When you fall that short and that close last year, the next step is to get to the Super Bowl."
Mahomes was all business against the Titans. For the second week in a row, the Chiefs started slowly, falling behind 17-7. But just before halftime, Mahomes hopped in a phone booth on the sidelines and then gave the Chiefs the lead for good with a jaw-dropping 27-yard run.
That's not even fair.
By game's end, Mahomes had completed 23 of 35 passes for 294 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 120.4. He also added 53 yards and that highlight-reel score on the ground—against a Titans defense that held Jackson in check a week ago.
As B/R Gridiron pointed out, it continues a postseason run by Mahomes that has been off…the…hook.
The thing is, that Mahomes is standing on his head shouldn't surprise anyone even a little. In fact, the only thing that should be surprising is that anyone could at all be surprised by it.
With Jackson going bananas on a weekly basis this season, Mahomes had faded into the background some. His passing yardage was down by over 1,000 yards relative to 2018. His touchdowns fell by almost 50 percent, from 50 to 26.
But that was hardly because Mahomes took a big step backward in his third NFL season. It was more a function of the fact that his 2018 stats were ridiculous.
All Mahomes did in his second season was become just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in the same year (Peyton Manning, 2013). He won the league's MVP award. Early in the season, more than one pundit speculated that Mahomes could be the first 6,000-yard quarterback in 2019.
But the reality is that no signal-caller who has ever thrown for 5,000 yards in a season has upped his yardage the following year. The quarterbacks who have had 50-score seasons all saw significant regression in that category the following year. Every. Single. One.
Even if Mahomes didn't suffer an ankle injury and lose time after he dislocated his kneecap, history strongly indicated the 24-year-old would experience a statistical dip this season.
But it's not like Mahomes' level of play fell off—and he's spent the last couple of games reminding hapless opponents of that. Mahomes is flat-out the best arm talent in the NFL. Given that he's not close to entering the prime of his career, it's no stretch to say he's the best arm talent the NFL has seen in quite some time. His final touchdown pass against the Titans to Sammy Watkins was equal parts lethal and effortless.
Again, that's not even fair.
It's not just Mahomes' physical talents, either. As Sam McDowell reported for the Kansas City Star, head coach Andy Reid continues to be blown away by the leadership qualities demonstrated by the young quarterback.
"It's rare—his leadership ability, his ability to feel. I don't know if you can teach that part," Reid said. "You can teach the fundamentals and those things, but then they put their own personality on it. You want to make sure that takes place. He's done that. He's been able to lead."
If Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce is any indication, Mahomes has the confidence of his teammates.
And he should. Yes, it doesn't hurt that Mahomes has arguably the best tight end in football at his disposal in Kelce, who was a force in last week's comeback over the Houston Texans with 10 catches for 134 yards and three touchdowns. Or that he can chuck it downfield to Tyreek Hill, who had two scores in the win over Tennessee.
Having one of the game's best offensive minds in Reid and an excellent young offensive coordinator in Eric Bieniemy calling the shots doesn't hurt, either.
But in two seasons as the Chiefs' starter, all Mahomes has done is top 9,000 passing yards while leading the team to two AFC West titles, two AFC Championship Games at home and a berth in Super Bowl LIV. There are already reports that Mahomes will sign an extension this offseason that could net him $40 million or more per season.
And no one will blink when he does.
Jackson had a fantastic year filled with jaw-dropping highlights. He's a wildly athletic and talented young superstar. The Titans went on a spectacular run in the playoffs, knocking off the defending champions and derailing the presumptive Super Bowl favorites in the AFC.
Impressive accomplishments—but not as impressive as a 24-year-old quarterback on the cusp of his first Super Bowl win who could easily be in the beginning stages of the AFC's next dynasty.
It's Mahomes' world now. All other quarterbacks are just living in it.
Long live the king.