PHOENIX – The Kansas City Chiefs are on the Super Bowl stage for the third time in four years, the first time triumphantly marching off with the Lombardi Trophy and the second time slinking away home after a lopsided loss in the big game.
Patrick Mahomes and Co. know better than anyone winning the Super Bowl is a whole lot better than losing it.
Experience alone gives the Chiefs a major advantage as they prepare to face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. But then you throw in Mahomes, the league's newly minted two-time MVP, along with transcendent tight end Travis Kelce, Chris Jones and the rest of the stars of their rebuilt defense, and coach Andy Reid pulling all the right strings and, well, there are plenty of reasons why the Chiefs will be celebrating another championship by the end of the weekend.
“I think you have a better understanding of the whole process,” Mahomes said of the Super Bowl buildup, "so you can kind of find those little windows where you can get a little extra film study and a little extra rest.
“Especially the first one, when I was in Miami, it was kind of, ‘You got to go here. You got to go here.’ And you were just trying to figure out a way to get it all done. Whereas now I have a better understanding of the process.”
Mahomes has a pretty good understanding of just about everything.
He set career bests for yards passing with 5,250 this season, led the league with 41 touchdown passes and helped the Chiefs win a seventh consecutive AFC West title, all while juggling plenty of off-the-field life: the birth of his son, ownership in several Kansas City sports franchises and a myriad other business opportunities and investments.
It's why he earned 48 of 50 first-place votes for MVP at NFL Honors on Thursday night.
“I think we've just seen him grow as a quarterback. His talent level goes far beyond his ability,” Kelce said. “He's a step ahead. He's playing chess out there, like he has three or four moves in his pocket depending on what a defense does. That's why he's going to be the greatest to ever go down.”
That's an apt title for Kelce among NFL tight ends: the greatest.
He's had another historic season, setting both franchise and league records, and only Jerry Rice now has more postseason touchdowns than Kelce does. When the Chiefs lost three wide receivers to injuries in the AFC title game, and Mahomes was hobbling along on his ailing right ankle, he still had his dependable tight end — who had been racked by back spasms early that week — when he was under pressure and needed somewhere to go with the ball.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Chiefs defense rarely gets the credit it deserves.
Jones had 15 1/2 sacks in the regular season, two more in the AFC title game and was a finalist for AP Defensive Player of the Year.
Frank Clark is quickly climbing the list of career playoff sacks. And a secondary that often throws four rookies onto the field at once shut down Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and his flotilla of receiving threats two weeks ago.
“I think we're peaking at the right time, especially after the past three to four weeks,” Jones said. “Everyone is ready. We're excited about the game. But we know what we're here for and we're going to keep at it.”
Reid wouldn't let them do anything else.
This will actually be his fourth time as a head coach in the Super Bowl — he lost his only try with Philadelphia — and for the past two weeks, he's been guiding the Chiefs through their preparations to his typical exacting standard.
Every meeting and walk-through and practice has been laid out to the minute, the product of all those years of experience.
“This all can take you out of your normal routine,” Reid explained. “You try to keep it as close to possible, but you've got the media obligations and a couple other things that they throw in there. But for the most part, we try to keep the practices the same, and we're on the same schedule.”
There's an argument to be made that the Eagles have the most complete roster in the NFL, and a side-by-side comparison with the Chiefs might leave the impression that they are the heavy favorites to walk away winners Sunday night.
But the Eagles don't have Mahomes or Kelce. They don't have Jones or “Big Red” on the sideline.
They also haven't experienced the thrill of a Super Bowl victory or the crushing disappointment of a defeat.
“I don't want to have any regrets,” Mahomes said. “When I step off this football field, I understand how lucky I am to be in this organization. I understand how lucky I am to play with guys that are going to be Hall of Famers. And so when I look back at the end of my career, I don’t want to look back and be like, ‘Man, I didn’t give everything I have to win to win Super Bowls,’ because of the great people I have around me. When I get done with my career, I want to make sure that I know that I gave everything I had on that football field."
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