There’s an adage that genius walks alone. Perhaps, the genius that powered the Patriots’ unparalleled NFL imperium is not as isolated as we thought. It sure looks like the Kansas City Chiefs are borrowing liberally from the Patriots’ masterful master plan these days, especially the part that reads: “Have quarterback, will travel to the Super Bowl.”
The Chiefs are copying the Patriots blueprint, and while the sustained success the Patriots enjoyed will be difficult to replicate, what underpinned it already has — a brilliant, generational quarterback. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is making it look not so hard to reproduce New England’s secret Super Bowl contender sauce.
If Tom Brady was the crown jewel of Patriot Place as one high-ranking official once described him, then Mahomes is the KC Masterpiece in every sense of the word.
Kansas City will face the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII next Sunday, the third Super Bowl appearance in four seasons for the Chiefs. They’ve been to five straight AFC Championship games, coinciding with Mahomes’s ascension to starting quarterback in 2018, when he won his first of what is going to be multiple NFL MVPs.
Football is still the ultimate team sport. One man alone can’t win games. But one great player at the most influential and consequential position in North American team sports can tip the scales forever in your favor and create a large margin for error in a league in which games are often won and lost by the narrowest of margins.
It’s undeniable that the Chiefs somewhat resemble the old Patriots with Mahomes, who led the NFL this season in touchdown passes and passing yards, in the role of Brady. He’s the difference-maker, the guy who can compensate for roster holes and shortcomings.
Let me know if any of this sounds familiar to you, Patriots fans:
▪ The Chiefs let their best and most dynamic wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, go in a trade because he wanted a costly new contract. They downgraded, filling the hole with reclamation project receivers such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and in-season addition Kadarius Toney, as well as a solid free agent pickup in Marquez Valdes-Scantling. No problem.
▪ They were without three receivers — Smith-Schuster, Toney, and Mecole Hardman — because of injuries during the AFC title game. No problem.
▪ They sacrificed their top cornerback, Charvarius Ward, to free agency. Then their best cornerback this season, L’Jarius Sneed, suffered a concussion during the AFC Championship game and was lost. The Chiefs were forced to defend Joe Burrow using three rookie corners. No problem. Two of them came up with interceptions, one of which involved rookie safety Bryan Cook tipping the ball.
▪ Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach found an undervalued player from Rutgers and turned him into a key component. Rookie running back Isiah Pacheco is a seventh-round pick and from Rutgers. Otherwise known as Patriots bingo. He’s KC’s leading rusher in the postseason, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
▪ The Chiefs put 10 rookies on the field for the AFC title game, eight on defense.
When the Patriots were doing those types of things in reaching Super Bowls it was hailed as uncommon genius. It’s funny how all those strokes of genius align when you have the generation’s best and most clutch QB to paper over any and all roster holes.
Mahomes is like a human Magic Eraser. He removes marks and polishes up the product.
Of course, he can’t do it all alone. The Chiefs brandish a dominant defender in tackle Chris Jones. Like Brady in the latter half of the Patriots dynasty, Mahomes benefits from an outgoing, unrecoverable tight end. Travis Kelce is his Gronk, although their playing styles could not be more different.
Rob Gronkowski was a do-it-all tight end. Kelce is a glorified receiver who doesn’t like to get his hands dirty in-line blocking. But Mahomes and Kelce make similar magic to Brady and Gronk. The two have connected for 13 touchdowns in the postseason, trailing only Brady and Gronkowski (15) for the most in NFL history.
Surely all of this is hard to stomach for Patriots fans who are fanatical about defending their team’s legacy. The Chiefs have a long way to go to be the equal of the Brady-Bill Belichick Patriots, a long way to go. Rest secure in that knowledge.
However, it’s undeniable that there is a certain familiarity here to watching the Chiefs prevail. Mahomes’s methods are different and more dynamic than Brady’s, but the overall effect is the same. His team starts each year with the expectation of reaching the Super Bowl because he’s present.
Reid has the respect of Belichick and a penchant for offensive wizardry and creativity. He was always an excellent coach. As coach of the Eagles, he went to five conference championship games, including four straight (2001-04). He lost a Super Bowl to the Patriots to end the ‘04 season with Donovan McNabb, a very good but not great QB.
Reid reached the playoffs and recorded four seasons of double-digit wins (11, 11, 12, 10) with the cautious and cerebral Alex Smith, pre-Mahomes.
But it’s not a coincidence that the incidence of Reid reaching football’s final four and the Roman Numeral Rumble reached an uptick when the incomparable Mahomes became his quarterback. Nor is it a coincidence that Reid has coached the Chiefs to at least 12 wins every year since Mahomes took over.
Suddenly, everyone in the Chiefs organization from the Hunt family on down looks smarter and better at their job with this type of quarterback propping it up. That’s one fact that some Patriots observers tried to deny or hide from for two decades.
The QB Effect is real. The Chiefs are proof.
Remarkable longevity and winning the big one is still what separates the Patriots dynasty as seemingly sui generis. The Patriots went to 13 conference title games and won nine. They won six of their nine Super Bowl appearances, and it could’ve been more.
It is in those moments that having the best quarterback and the greatest coach in NFL history allowed the Patriots to stand apart and stand above.
But in a season in which more holes have been poked in the Patriots mystique, the Chiefs playing in the Super Bowl yet again is yet another pigksin pin puncturing the carefully crafted aura of Belichick and Co.
Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.