Ma­homes has been every­thing KC wanted

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS | NFL - Nancy Ar­mour Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It wasn’t that long ago that the Chiefs won­dered if Pa­trick Ma­homes were too good to be true.

Four touch­downs in the sea­son opener, fol­lowed by six the next week and three more the week af­ter that. The physics-warp­ing arm an­gles and the nolook lasers into im­pos­si­bly tight spa­ces. The un­bri­dled joy and com­plete un­af­fect­ed­ness.

No way Ma­homes could keep it up, right?

“That first cou­ple of games, we thought, ‘Is this an out­lier? Is this some­thing that’s go­ing to last?’ ” Chiefs CEO and chair­man Clark Hunt ac­knowl­edged Satur­day. “He lit­er­ally has done it ev­ery week.”

Just 23, Ma­homes has proved to be more than a franchise quar­ter­back in this, his first full sea­son as a starter. He’s been trans­for­ma­tional for a team whose post­sea­son mis­eries are as lengthy as they are well-doc­u­mented. The 31-13 vic­tory over In­di­anapo­lis in the di­vi­sional round Satur­day was only Kansas City’s sec­ond play­off win in its last 12 tries.

It also was the franchise’s first play­off win at Ar­row­head Sta­dium since the 1993 sea­son, which, coin­ci­den­tally, is the last time the Chiefs reached the AFC ti­tle game. And when Kansas City hosts New Eng­land next week­end, bring­ing the man who has car­ried the NFL the last 15 years face to face with the man who will carry it the next 15, it will be the first time the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game has been played at Ar­row­head.

Mind-bog­gling, con­sid­er­ing the win­ner of the game is awarded the La­mar Hunt Tro­phy, named for the Chiefs’ founder and Clark Hunt’s fa­ther.

“We’re ex­cited we get to play here and have a chance to go to the Su­per Bowl here,” Ma­homes said.

A pow­er­house in the old AFL, the Chiefs have had their mo­ments since the merger. There was the Joe Mon­tana and Mar­cus Allen Era, of course. Tony Gon­za­lez got them to the play­offs a few times. So did Ja­maal Charles. Un­der coach Andy Reid, Kansas City has been a reg­u­lar in the play­offs.

But it was never quite good enough. Punter Dustin Colquitt, who has been in Kansas City for his en­tire 14-year ca­reer, re­mem­bers watch­ing the Chiefs’ next-door neigh­bors win the World Se­ries in 2015 and think­ing there was no rea­son his team couldn’t do what the Roy­als were do­ing. They just needed a few more play­ers.

Asked Satur­day night if they have those play­ers, Colquitt smiled.

“I think it’s tough to ar­gue not,” he said, his eyes au­to­mat­i­cally glanc­ing at Ma­homes’ locker.

Ma­homes was some­thing of an enigma com­ing out of Texas Tech. There was no ques­tion he could throw the ball — he passed for 5,052 yards in his last sea­son with the Red Raiders and had a ca­reer passer rat­ing of 152 — but he’d started for only two sea­sons. Sea­sons in which Texas Tech was a non-fac­tor in the Big 12.

But Ma­homes was also ma­ture be­yond his years, and grow­ing up in Ma­jor League Base­ball club­houses had pre­pared him for both the grind of a pro ca­reer and the pit­falls that can come with celebrity. With Alex Smith the es­tab­lished starter when Ma­homes was drafted, he be­came a sponge, learn­ing as much as he could with­out get­ting over­whelmed or ar­ro­gant about his sur­round­ings.

“I am proud of the way he goes about his busi­ness,” Reid said. “It’s im­por­tant your quar­ter­back does that. He had a great teacher in Alex.”

The Chiefs parted ways with Smith last offsea­son, as had been ex­pected, and gave the keys to the franchise to Ma­homes. He has yet to dis­ap­point.

He be­came only the third player with 50 touch­downs in a sea­son, join­ing Pey­ton Man­ning and Tom Brady, while throw­ing just 12 in­ter­cep­tions. He led the Chiefs to the No. 1 seed, and all-im­por­tant home-field ad­van­tage, and is the heavy fa­vorite for NFL MVP.

“Coach Reid and (offen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Eric) Bie­niemy have done a great job of man­ag­ing a lethal weapon,” Colquitt said. “The cool thing is, he’s not putting every­thing on his shoul­ders. He’s just go­ing out and do­ing ex­actly what the coaches tell him to do, and it’s fun.” And ev­ery­one is in on it. Though Ma­homes is the Chiefs’ undis­puted star, he has shown no in­ter­est in mak­ing it a one-man show. He is quick to praise his team­mates af­ter games. He takes it in stride when Reid and his team­mates razz him about his hairstyle and scratchy voice. (Pro­vid­ing a teach­able mo­ment for all kids get­ting teased or go­ing through an awk­ward phase, too.) He re­mains un­fail­ingly po­lite, sprin­kling con­ver­sa­tions with “Sir” and “Ma’am.”

“That’s just his per­son­al­ity and team has re­ally ral­lied around him,” Hunt said. “They be­lieve in him. That’s a very im­por­tant qual­ity if you want to win the AFC cham­pi­onship and go to the Su­per Bowl.”

The idea of that ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing might seem too good to be true for the Chiefs and their long-suffer­ing fans. But as Ma­homes has al­ready proved, there’s no such thing.

JAY BIGGERSTAFF/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Chiefs quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes, who passed for 278 yards Satur­day, takes off run­ning against Colts de­fen­sive end Mar­gus Hunt in the third quar­ter of the AFC di­vi­sional round game.

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