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Patrick Mahomes’ favorite time of year

Although the Kansas City Chiefs’ superstar QB always does big things, he’s never better than in the playoffs

This is the best time of year for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and a quick review of the club’s recent playoff results reveals the reason.

The defending Super Bowl champions have enjoyed spectacular postseason success during the nascent Mahomes era, and they’ve been impressive again in reaching their third straight AFC Championship Game. The Chiefs play host to the Buffalo Bills (more later on Kansas City’s historic playoff run on its home field) on Sunday with a berth to Super Bowl LV at stake.

The superstar’s status for the conference title game has been in question after he suffered an undisclosed injury late in the Chiefs’ divisional-round win, was ruled out the remainder of that game and immediately entered the NFL’s concussion protocol. Mahomes returned to practice this week while he continued to be evaluated as part of the league’s mandatory medical process for players who demonstrate the motor instability he displayed.

Patrick Mahomes (center) of the Kansas City Chiefs stumbles while trying to stand up after a third-quarter run against the Cleveland Browns in the AFC divisional round at Arrowhead Stadium on Jan. 17 in Kansas City, Missouri. Mahomes left the game and was ruled out to return.

David Eulitt/Getty Images

However, barring unforeseen developments, Mahomes is expected to start against Buffalo. Although things have been murky regarding Mahomes’ health and availability to play this week, nothing could be clearer than the fact he has thrived in the playoffs.

Only in his third season as a starter, the wunderkind signal-caller has a 5-1 career playoff record, including a 3-0 mark in the previous postseason that resulted in the Chiefs’ first Super Bowl win in 50 years. While guiding the Chiefs to their second Super Bowl title (Kansas City also defeated Minnesota in the fourth Super Bowl), Mahomes became the only quarterback in NFL history to lead a team to three victories in one postseason in which it trailed by at least 10 points.

Mahomes holds the distinction of being the youngest passer to have a Super Bowl title, a Super Bowl MVP award – having accomplished both of those feats at 24 – and a league MVP award. He was selected the 2018 winner by the Associated Press.

Now 25, Mahomes, assuming he starts Sunday as expected, would become the youngest quarterback to start in three consecutive conference championship games. His historic play has been the biggest single factor in the Chiefs becoming the first team in AFC history to host three title games in a row. Interestingly, the Philadelphia Eagles are the only team to do it in the NFC (2002-04), which occurred when they were led by current Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.

Eager to return to the league’s biggest stage, the Chiefs believe they’re well positioned to get there largely because of who occupies the game’s most important position for them. A trailblazing quarterback couldn’t agree more.

Over his 10-year NFL playing career, James “Shack” Harris broke several significant barriers for Black quarterbacks, including becoming the first one to start and win a playoff game. Harris, who has followed Mahomes’ career closely, especially enjoys watching the All-Pro work as qualifying for the Super Bowl draws near.

“Obviously, in terms of the skill he has and what he has accomplished [in the playoffs], he has proven he’s a superior talent,” Harris said on the phone Thursday. “Everyone knows this is the most important time. And more than anything right now, he’s like a field general out there. You just see it.

“He understands the moment and what he has to do for his team. He’s always a playmaker. He’s always a guy who can extend plays. But now, right now, is when it matters the most. When you think of what you want at that position, when you think of what you look to that position for [in the playoffs], he possesses all of it.”

Harris’ admiration of Mahomes’ artistry in the postseason isn’t only rooted in a former player’s respect for a current one.

After his playing days ended, Harris became a pioneering NFL executive in his second act. He had a long, successful career as a player-personnel official, steadily making the climb from being a scout to a front-office executive for several clubs.

Harris helped build the Baltimore Ravens’ 2001 Super Bowl title team. He was the vice president of player personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In February 2015, Harris retired from his role as a senior personnel adviser with the Detroit Lions.

There are few things the former player and personnel man enjoys more than the NFL postseason. Maintaining one’s cool under playoff pressure is a key to having success, Harris said, and Mahomes “just always looks at ease. You look at him, and he seems very comfortable. That’s what you want. To me, it seems like he’s a guy who plays like he’s just across the street with the boys. You know what I mean?

“It’s like when you’re just outside with your buddies as a kid and playing the game you love. He plays like he’s going to approach it that way – the same way he did when he was just with his buddies. No matter the situation or what he has to do, he’s the same. He’s always going to play his game. I know it sounds simple. But believe me, not everyone does that when there’s more [pressure]. He has the confidence that he’ll get the job done for his teammates.”

With another Super Bowl appearance this season, Mahomes would add another noteworthy achievement to his rapidly growing list. Regardless of whether Mahomes completes this step, though, he has nothing left to prove, Harris believes.

“In terms of history, sure, getting back to the Super Bowl the season after winning one would definitely add to it for him. Getting there back-to-back [seasons] is just hard to do,” Harris said. “But with what he’s already done, he’s already established as one of the great players who we’ve seen come into this league. Let’s not forget the MVPs also. And he’s such a good representative of the Chiefs and young people.

“Now, don’t get me wrong. Yeah, winning another Super Bowl would do a lot for him. It would do a lot for him [in] establishing himself even more among the all-time greats. You look a lot at championships because of how hard it is to win more than one. But like I said, for several of us who have played the game and been around the game for a long time, we’ve already seen enough. We consider him to be one of the best who ever played. And the thing about it is he has done it in such a short period of time.”

With what Mahomes has already accomplished being so young, time seems to be on his side to do so much more. And the Chiefs and their fans are absolutely loving every second of it.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.

Doug Clawson is a senior researcher in the ESPN Stats & Info group. He loves playing and watching sports, crunching numbers and telling unique stories.