For Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, the 2022 AFC Championship Game is being given the legacy moniker. In reality, it’s much bigger for one of them.
If Patrick Mahomes walked away after this season, he’d walk into the Hall of Fame.
If Joe Burrow did the same, he’d also walk into the Hall of Fame, but he’d need a ticket first.
This isn’t to denigrate Burrow, who is utterly fantastic. At 26 years old, he’s one game away from leading the Cincinnati Bengals — the Bengals — to consecutive Super Bowl appearances. This after the franchise hadn’t won a single playoff game since 1990 prior to Burrow’s arrival.
Yet the difference between the resumè of Mahomes and Burrow is significant.
Mahomes is only a year older at 27, but has five years of starting experience compared to three seasons for Burrow. The Kansas City Chiefs’ signal-caller had more time to build his legacy, and it hasn’t been wasted.
In those five years, Mahomes has been named to five Pro Bowls, he’s a two-time First-Team All-Pro, a Second-Team All-Pro and barring a shocking upset, about to be a two-time NFL MVP. He’s also reached two Super Bowls, won one of them, and was named Super Bowl MVP in victory.
In NFL history, Mahomes is only one of seven quarterbacks to ever win multiple MVPs, a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP. The others are Steve Young, Joe Montana, Kurt Warner, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning.
Four are Hall of Famers. Two will go in on the first-ballot upon eligibility.
Statistically, Mahomes is beyond compare with anybody in his age range. He’s thrown for 192 touchdowns and 24,241 yards, including two years of at least 5,000 yards, one season with 50 touchdown passes and four of at least 35.
For comparison’s sake, Rodgers and Brady have thrown 35 touchdowns six times each. They’re the only players in the NFL’s 103-year history to eclipse Mahomes in this regard.
As for Burrow, he’s carving out his own tremendous story.
Once an afterthought transferring from Ohio State to LSU, Burrow became a sensation, winning a national title in the Bayou while enjoying the great single-season in NCAA history for a quarterback. He threw for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns as a redshirt senior, before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in Cincinnati.
With the Bengals, Burrow has ascended to superstardom. This season, Burrow became a Pro Bowler for the first time, one year after leading Cincinnati to Super Sunday. In 2021, Burrow was the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, returning from a torn ACL in his rookie campaign.
And while Burrow’s young career is impressive, it’s far more incomplete than Mahomes’ to this juncture. Of course, that’s to be expected. He’s had two fewer seasons as a starter and he took over a reclamation project, whereas Mahomes walked into a ready-made contender.
But the reality remains clear: if Mahomes loses on Sunday, it’s a lost opportunity to pad one of the greatest resumès the league has ever seen, regardless of age or position. If Burrow loses on Sunday, it takes away a terrific chance to win his first ring while on a rookie deal, a ring which would forever cement his place in football lore.
The AFC Championship Game — which Mahomes has hosted every year he’s been Kansas City’s main man — is different for both of its leading men.
For Mahomes, a moment to build upon established, historic greatness.
For Burrow, a potential victory to close the gap, and move one win from the ultimate.