Thanks to head coach Andy Reid choosing to rest his starters in Week 17, the Kansas City Chiefs dodged a bullet on Sunday.
While Chiefs starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes stood on the sidelines in Kansas City, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson played superbly in Houston’s 41-38 loss to the Tennessee Titans, passing for 365 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
With that performance, Watson finished the season with 4,823 passing yards, thereby eclipsing Mahomes (who had 4,740 in his 15 games) to become the NFL’s passing yards leader for 2020.
Thanks to Watson’s performance — and the Texans missing the playoffs — one of the NFL’s oddest records will now remain safe for another season: No quarterback who has led the league in passing yards has ever won that season’s Super Bowl.
This is one of those bizarre records that at first glance, makes absolutely no sense. Why wouldn’t the quarterback who threw for more yards than any other in a season be one of the prime candidates to win a Super Bowl? Especially in a quarterback-centered, passing-dependent league like the 21st-century NFL?
Look no further than Watson and the Texans to find part of the answer. Despite Watson leading the league in passing yards, the Texans finished the season 4-12 — and since they aren’t in the NFC East, they had no chance to make the playoffs. The passing yards leader often plays for an inferior team but has put up a lot of passing yards trying to come back in games the team ended up losing anyway.
After all... it takes more than a great quarterback to come up with a fourth-quarter comeback. It also requires a defense to keep the other team from scoring more points while your quarterback is executing plays for that Sunday’s highlight reel.
But being the passing yards leader doesn’t necessarily mean you play for a bad team. Sometimes these high-volume quarterbacks play for good teams that make the playoffs — and sometimes even the Super Bowl. Twice — in 2017 and 2007 — Tom Brady led the league in passing yards, but the New England Patriots lost in the championship game. Peyton Manning played in (and lost) the Super Bowl after the 2013 season, in which he led the league. It happened to Dan Marino, Kurt Warner and Rich Gannon in 1984, 2001 and 2002.
Drew Brees has won the passing yards title seven times — but not in 2009, when the Saints made it to (and won) Super Bowl XLIV.
So part of it is pure chance, too; there’s nothing about being the passing yards leader that intrinsically says your team can’t reach (or win) a Super Bowl.
And yet... in
54 55 years, it’s never happened.
The good news is that Mahomes won’t have that particular monkey riding on his back when he and his teammates return to action in the Divisional round; no one will be able to say that Mahomes won’t win the Super Bowl because he led the league in passing.
But someday, Mahomes probably will lead the league — and win the Super Bowl, too.