KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Patrick Mahomes stepped to podium, glassy-eyed and somber. He almost looked shell-shocked as his eyes darted back and forth across the room. Breathing deeply, he fought for composure mere minutes after the Kansas City Chiefs’ 37-31 overtime loss to the New England Patriots.
The young quarterback took the league by storm in his first year as a starter, and he had aspirations of capping the impressive campaign with a Lombardi Trophy. He led his team back from a 14-0 deficit, directed a 31-point second-half performance and powered a game-tying, overtime-forcing drive in the final 31 seconds of regulation. But another signature drive by Tom Brady punched New England’s ticket to the Super Bowl for the ninth time since 2001.
“This hurts,” said Mahomes, who threw for 295 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the losing effort. “It’s supposed to hurt. We put in work. You’re doing everything you can to get to the Super Bowl and to win, and for this opportunity, to fall short, it hurts.”
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Mahomes echoed the message that Chiefs coach Andy Reid issued to his players in the locker room following the defeat and then relayed to reporters during his own postgame news conference minutes earlier.
The coach who had sought only his second Super Bowl appearance in 20 years as a head coach – and his first such trip with the Chiefs – told his players to allow themselves to feel that pain, give themselves time to heal and then use the lingering sting of defeat as fuel going forward.
Mahomes said, “He told us to accept it. You have to go through that, but at the same time, when you look back and you come back and look at the bigger picture, you know that you can build off this, use this feeling as motivation to win next time.”
But all of that takes time, Reid acknowledged.
The loss to the Patriots and narrow miss of their first Super Bowl appearance in 49 years does indeed sting. New England outlasted this squad on Sunday – and who knows if the game would have ended differently if the Chiefs won the overtime coin toss and their offense at least got a chance. But Reid, Mahomes and Co. are indeed building something here. This wasn’t a fluky season. The Chiefs are on the verge of taking over as the AFC’s elite squad.
But for now, the Chiefs likely will endure some sleepless nights of reflection. They’ll replay Sunday’s missed opportunities, like the slow start that included only 32 first-half yards, the early struggles to thwart the Patriots’ pass rush, a missed first-half touchdown on an overthrow by Mahomes, the drive-extending defensive penalties in the second half and an inability to stop New England on that overtime sequence that climaxed with a 2-yard Rex Burkhead touchdown run.
One penalty proved more-costly than the others. Nursing a 28-24 lead, the Chiefs briefly thought they produced the clincher when cornerback Charvarius Ward intercepted a pass off the hands of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. The takeaway would have given the Chiefs the ball with the lead and just 1:01 left on the clock.
But a yellow flag crushed those fleeting feelings of jubilation. Officials said linebacker Dee Ford had lined up in the neutral zone, so the offside penalty negated the interception and gave the Patriots new life. They scored two plays later to go up 31-28 with 42 seconds left.
“We’ve got to be better, me especially on that play,” Ford said. “I’ve got to see the ball. I’ve got to see the ball. Especially that time of the game and what was at stake – I’ve got to see the ball.”
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The young Mahomes didn’t flinch. As he has all season long, he accepted the challenge and directed a 48-yard drive that resulted in a 39-yard Harrison Butker field goal that forced overtime.
Although Kansas City lost the overtime coin toss, Reid said he thought the Chiefs were a tipped pass or forced fumble away from getting the ball back and then scoring.
But instead, Brady methodically directed a 13-play, 75-yard drive to win the game 4 minutes and 52 seconds into overtime.
“We put ourselves in position to win this game,” Reid said. “That’s what makes this so tough. … But this gives us a little bit of work – it’s a bright future and we’ve got good players, and we’ll get over the hump here – the big hump.”
Reid’s words weren’t just feel-good talk. There’s reason to believe they could be prophetic considering the potential his roster boasts. Mahomes, who led the NFL with 50 touchdown passes, helped his team earn the top AFC seed and reach the conference championship for the first time since 1993. The Chiefs have a talented and young supporting cast on offense and emerging play-makers on a defense that led the NFL in sacks. More promising players could be coming thanks to sharp talent evaluation within the organization.
And as age creeps up on key players for the Patriots (at some point), a changing of the guard will take place.
“There’s a lot of things to be optimistic about,” Reid said. “We’ve just got to get through – just got to give me a little time here, because this is a tough one.”
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.