FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The path to the Super Bowl for the Patriots over the years has gone through all types of quarterbacks.
They outlasted the Jaguars in last year’s AFC Championship Game despite a career-best game from Blake Bortles, who otherwise has been a league-wide punchline. They throttled Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers the year before. In the 2014 season, in a game that triggered Deflategate, they smashed the Colts and extinguished any idea that Andrew Luck was taking the torch from Tom Brady. A few years earlier, it was Joe Flacco and the Ravens who went down in the AFC title game.
Brady also lost one to Flacco. And then two to Peyton Manning and the Broncos, in the 2013 and 2015 seasons, respectively.
Brady stepped to the podium yesterday fully aware of the storyline for this year’s challenge: Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes is the Steph Curry of the NFL. He throws at unbelievable angles, completes passes he has no business attempting, and engineers the most exciting offense the league has seen in years.
Brady is LeBron James, except at an even more advanced stage of his career. Eight consecutive conference championship games, exhibiting few signs that the end is coming soon.
It has all the makings of an all-time rivalry.
For a moment yesterday, Brady brought us back to when he was in Mahomes’ shoes: in his second NFL season after what was essentially a redshirt rookie year, hoping to keep the magic rolling with a first Super Bowl.
“I remember (it) pretty well — it’s a little while ago, but I still remember it — my first playoffs and having the experience to go to the AFC Championship Game,” Brady said. “It was different. I flew to Pittsburgh to do a press conference with Lawyer Milloy on Friday and waited for the team to come on Saturday. It was a little bit different.”
Brady referenced the NFC Championship Game, as well, pointing out that the Drew Brees vs. Jared Goff matchup has a similar feel.
“It goes fast and I’m sure it will go fast for them and their young careers,” Brady said. “Jared and Patrick have had great seasons, great offenses. And we’re still here plugging around, me and Drew, doing our thing, having a lot of fun doing it.”
Brady, who appeared relaxed as ever at his final press conference of the week, wasn’t shy about heaping praise on Mahomes and the Chiefs offense.
“He’s had really a spectacular season,” Brady said. “I remember seeing the (Chargers) game earlier in the year — I think that was their opener — and they played so well. And then they went to the Steelers and everyone thought, ‘Man, the Steelers are going to have this great season,’ and it was 28-whatever right out of the box in Pittsburgh and started watching, like, ‘Holy cow, how are they doing these things?’”
Brady added: “And then you watch some of the plays that they were making and just explosive play after explosive play. And Patrick, obviously, making these great throws to Tyreek (Hill) and Sammy (Watkins) and (Travis) Kelce. They were running the ball to Kareem Hunt at that time. And they just kept it going all year, and they’re really hard to stop all the way across the board.”
Continuing his scouting report on the Chiefs offense, Brady explained that “some of it is really player driven, some of it’s the scheme.”
Mahomes, Hill, Kelce and coach Andy Reid are the perfect storm offensively. No defense has held them to fewer than 26 points this year, and not one team has stopped them from scoring within their first two possessions of a game. The Pats defense played the Chiefs about as well as anyone can in the first half of Week 6, limiting them to three field goals. The wheels came off in the second half, though, as Mahomes hooked up with Hill for three touchdowns.
Even if the Patriots get a strong performance from their defense, they’ll need an “A” performance from the offense to survive.
Mahomes’ time is coming. There’s no doubt he’ll end up in a Super Bowl at some point. Brady’s hoping to delay the official passing of the torch by at least another year.
“We feel like we have a team that can compete well against anybody,” Brady said. “We’re going to need to play really well, and that’s what makes for a championship game. Hopefully, we can have our best one of the year.”