In his first few years as a starter, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes accomplished feats never before seen on a professional football field.
After becoming the 2018 AP NFL MVP in his first year as a starter, the Super Bowl MVP in his second year and piling up accolades like “fastest QB to throw 100 touchdowns” or “fastest QB to throw 15,000 yards,” many Kansas City fans were talking about him as if he was the next GOAT — that is, the Greatest Of All Time. His meteoric rise allowed him to win as many Super Bowls as Tom Brady had during his first three seasons with the New England Patriots — and perhaps unseat him as the greatest quarterback of all time.
Just eight months ago — before Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay — that was the narrative.
But that was before Mahomes and the Chiefs suffered their first double-digit loss since he became the starter: their 31-9 defeat by Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. Once Brady proved that at the age of 44, he could still perform at an MVP level — and win his head-to-head battle against Mahomes in the league championship — Kansas City fans had to set that narrative aside.
Now, the Chiefs find themselves outside the playoff picture with a 3-4 record — and Kansas City fans are concerned about another narrative: that Mahomes could be the next quarterback to follow a career arc like Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. A gifted quarterback who has made dazzling plays throughout his career, Rodgers has only a single Super Bowl win from the early seasons of his career — and because he lacked playmakers around him, he has also had many lost seasons.
But it might be that Mahomes’ career arc more closely resembles the one Russell Wilson has had with the Seattle Seahawks.
In 2012, Wilson took over an underperforming team and led them to the playoffs — winning his very first playoff game against the Washington Football Team. The Seahawks’ defense was built with an emphasis no one else had considered: length. The team had taken chances on late-round draft prospects who would help them to play physical football. When Wilson became the starter, it was a smart, veteran team — and he provided the spark they needed in the offense.
In 2018, Mahomes took over an underperforming team and led them to the AFC’s No. 1 seed, winning his first playoff appearance against the Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs had also been built on a specific emphasis — but this one was in the offense: speed. Kansas City had also taken chances on unheralded prospects who allowed them to get to places on the field that opposing defenses literally could not cover. Once Mahomes arrived — unlocking the play-calling of the creative coaching staff — the team was rolling.
But both quarterbacks lost their very next postseason games to the conference’s eventual representative to the Super Bowl.
In their second seasons, both Wilson and Mahomes controlled their respective divisions and conferences for most of the season. Both led their teams to playoff byes — and eventually, to Super Bowl victories. (Unlike Mahomes, Wilson was healthy throughout the season — and did not become Super Bowl MVP).
In their third seasons, Wilson and Mahomes both absolutely crushed their schedules, earning the No. 1 seed in their conferences. Both cruised through the playoffs to the Super Bowl. But then, both teams met a Tom Brady-led contender in the championship game — and lost in heartbreaking fashion. Wilson threw an iconic interception to the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler that decided the game, while Mahomes executed an iconic horizontal throw that struck Darrel Williams’ helmet.
The Seahawks entered Wilson’s fourth season as the betting favorites to avenge their Super Bowl loss. But in the season opener, a division rival gets a surprising win against them. That’s followed by a loss to the Packers, avenging their playoff loss from the previous year. By the end of October, the Seahawks were 3-4 — and were the talk of the sports media world. On every show, the narrative was that “the dynasty is over.”
Does that sound familiar?
After that, the Seahawks turned it around, winning six of their last seven games and earning a Wild Card spot in the playoffs — where they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 10-9 in a very weird (and cold) road game. The NFC’s eventual Super Bowl representative — the Carolina Panthers — knocked them out in the Divisional round.
In his fifth season, Wilson’s big contract finally hit. He had signed a four-year deal that paid him an average of nearly $22 million per season — the NFL’s second-highest cap hit behind Aaron Rodgers. Seattle had paid other contributors, too — including Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and K.J. Wright. They had to make it work with cheap playmakers and contributors to the offensive line.
And between Wilson’s veteran savvy, the defense and the coaching staff, the Seahawks were able to again make the playoffs as a Wild Card — only to exit in the Divisional round.
In the six seasons since Seattle’s loss to Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks have made the playoffs five times — but have never been past the Divisional round. Defensive stars went to other teams as management replaced them with young, more inexpensive players — and just once, Wilson was named a second-team All-Pro.
Kansas City’s track?
The Chiefs and Mahomes could follow a very similar path. They also have aging stars like Travis Kelce and Tyrann Mathieu on the team. They’ve also paid a lot of contributors who no longer live up to their contracts. The front office made a move to go younger on the offensive line — but in the process, it used so many assets that they didn’t have the resources to fill other holes.
After a slow start this season, we’ve been forced to re-evaluate our expectations for this Chiefs team. And as uncomfortable as it may be to suggest, we may need to re-evaluate our expectations for what the Chiefs can be — not just in this year, but in the years to come.
They’re not going to be the Patriots. They may not be the Packers. And if they don’t turn it around soon, they won’t even be the Seahawks. It’s up to the team this year — and the front office this offseason — to make the tough decisions necessary to keep this team competing for years down the line.
We’ll just have to see how it plays out.