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Patrick Mahomes has now answered the most important question about him

Going into 2022, Kansas City’s star quarterback had one thing to prove.

Kansas City Chiefs v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

“This one gonna expose some people!!.. Glad he out the division too,” posted Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen after the Kansas City Chiefs traded wideout Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins in March.

Allen’s comment — now draped in irony — is a perfect encapsulation of Kansas City’s offseason. A large number of players, coaches and analysts all saw the Hill trade as the final piece of the Patrick Mahomes regression puzzle.

That word — regression — has been a term used with regard to the Chiefs’ star quarterback ever since he became the team’s starter in 2018, immediately dominating the league and being named its MVP.

There have been countless claims that Mahomes would eventually become a lesser player. First, it was thought defenses would “figure him out.” Then the loss of playmakers like running back Kareem Hunt and wide receiver Sammy Watkins would be ensure his downfall. Next, teams completely changed defensive tendencies against Mahomes, playing more two-high safety looks than ever against Kansas City. Finally — after years in which AFC teams were building rosters designed to mitigate the Chiefs’ quarterback — Hill’s exit would be the final nail in the coffin.

But Mahomes has passed every test he’s been given. He’s generated highlight after highlight. He brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Kansas City — and has been a pillar of the community ever since he arrived.

Just the same, after becoming the true franchise quarterback that Kansas City fans had desired for so long, Mahomes still had questions to answer. How would he handle his contract negotiations? How would he fit into a roster limited by a large quarterback contract? And would he be able to elevate the talent around him? This is typically the last (and likely the most important) question a franchise quarterback must answer.

More than ever, NFL teams are focusing on what is commonly called the “rookie quarterback window” — in which a young, ascending quarterback is inexpensive. This still allows the team to load up on veteran talent through trades and free agency. The Dolphins, Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals are great examples of teams currently in this window.

While the Chiefs were within it, they brought in players like Watkins, defensive end Frank Clark, safety Tyrann Mathieu and linebacker Anthony Hitchens. But as the salary-cap hit of Mahomes’ long-term contract has continued to rise, it’s become challenging to surround him with that kind of talent.

But on Sunday night, Mahomes answered that final question. He can elevate lesser talent when the lights shine brightest.

In the fourth quarter — needing a touchdown on the road against the defense of a division rival that was built specifically to face him — he once again came through in the clutch. With less than two minutes remaining, he marched down the field to score the winning touchdown with a castoff at right tackle and three of his top receivers (and his first-round running back) out with injuries.

In 2022, no quarterback is doing more with less.

There’s no doubt about it: when Hill was traded to Miami on March 23, all of Chiefs Kingdom was worried about the impact it would have on Mahomes and his offense; it was difficult to imagine how it could succeed without such a dynamic, speedy player.

Yet now — as he barrels toward what could easily be his second MVP award — Mahomes has made all of that seem irrelevant. Without a huge spike in turnovers or a dramatic shift in scheme, he has returned to the level of production that thrilled us in 2018 — and has again solidified himself as the league’s best quarterback.

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