No, the Chiefs didn't trade up to select Mahomes just to make the playoffs. They did it to win in the playoffs. Now, Mahomes gets his first chance when the first-year starter leads the AFC West champions against the Colts — their longtime playoff nemesis — on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Win and the young All-Pro quarterback has the Chiefs one game away from playing in the Super Bowl, lose and Mahomes has to wait a full year to get another crack at wiping away the stink of all those playoff failures.
"A playoff run in general would mean a ton to everyone in this community, including us. I know the history," Mahomes said, "but at the same time, we are a different generation." That may be true, but he was on the sideline last season for the latest postseason letdown.
Mahomes was given his freshman season to learn the ropes under Smith, who ended a streak of eight straight playoff defeats by beating Houston in the wild-card round in January 2016. But they lost the following week at New England to end their playoff run, then lost at home to the Steelers in the divisional round in 2017 and blew a big lead against the Titans in the wild-card round a year ago.
Three defeats after that rarest of playoff wins. The sting has been even more brutal at home, where the Colts have won just as many playoff games as the Chiefs (two apiece) over the years. Both of the Chiefs' wins were in the wild-card round.
They've never won a home playoff game in the divisional round or beyond. Yet if there's any reason to believe that stretch of futility will end Saturday, it just may be the optimistic kid with the big arm and curly Mohawk. Bono, Grbac and the rest never put up the kind of numbers that Mahomes has this season, nor did they engender the same kind of confidence in their teams.
Mahomes exudes poise. And the rest of the Chiefs can feel it. "It's the way he plays," Chiefs center Mitch Morse said recently. "Not only his talent, which is uncanny, but the way he prepares, the way he conducts himself in the huddle, and then the guy has got a swagger about him that's infectious."
There is no denying this is a new experience, though. Mahomes only played in one bowl game in three seasons at Texas Tech, much less an NFL playoff game with the entire football world watching. "So far I haven't seen anything that's too big for Pat. I'm not even worried about that," coach Andy Reid said Monday, just before the Chiefs resumed practicing following a well-earned week off.
"He's going to get himself ready, just like he does every week, to play against a good football team," Reid said. "But I don't think he's wired the other way. I'm not predicting anything, I'm just telling you, matter of fact, how he's wired, how he goes about his business."
That doesn't mean Reid hasn't pulled him aside for a few extra chats. "Everything is a little faster in the playoffs. That's how things go," Reid said. "At the same time, he has to be himself and continue to lead and play like he has been doing. I don't think he will have a problem with that. I think he understands that. He is wired the right way to handle all of it."
Mahomes said he's chatted with Smith about his postseason experience, and he's soaked up what he can from the veterans in his locker room. Defensive back Ron Parker, linebacker Justin Houston and fullback Anthony Sherman are among those who have been part of several postseason letdowns.
As they take the field with Mahomes on Saturday, they have a chance to scribble over that history. "I mean, we are definitely ready. We know what it's going to take," Mahomes said. "It's going to take a full effort from everyone, every single day, to the game and hopefully on. We know that you have to capitalize on every single play. You can't let one play get you down for the next. The next play is the most important play. We are excited we get the chance to do that."
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