KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Justin Houston has played long enough for the Kansas City Chiefs to have heard Arrowhead Stadium roaring in victory and silenced in defeat, along with just about every decibel in between.
What floated through the crisp December air on Sunday night was something new.
It started quietly, grew slowly and finally reached a crescendo: “MVP! “MVP! MVP!”
The chant was directed at the sheepish quarterback standing on the Kansas City sideline, the one with the curly Mohawk and easy smile. He was chosen in the first round of the draft to be the long-underachieving Chiefs’ savior, and Patrick Mahomes shattered even the loftiest of expectations while leading the team to a third consecutive AFC West title and No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“First time I’ve ever heard that,” said Houston, who has played his entire eight-year career with the Chiefs, before confidently adding: “I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last with that guy.”
The 23-year-old Mahomes capped the finest regular season in franchise history in style, throwing for 281 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-3 blowout of the Raiders on Sunday. The scoring strikes were of 67 yards to Tyreek Hill and 89 yards to Demarcus Robinson , the latter giving the first-year starter more than 5,000 yards passing and 50 touchdown throws on the season.
Only six quarterbacks have thrown for that many yards in a season, and only Peyton Manning with the Broncos and Tom Brady with the Patriots have thrown that many touchdown passes.
Manning is the only one with 5,000 and 50 in the same phenomenal year.
Not surprisingly, he was voted the league’s most valuable player that season.
Mahomes will have to wait until the night before the Super Bowl to find out whether he took another stride in Manning’s footsteps. That’s when The Associated Press announces the league’s most coveted award. No Chief has won it, though Priest Holmes in 2002 was the AP Offensive Player of the Year.
Indeed, there are plenty of worthy MVP candidates.
Rams running back Todd Gurley may have been even better than when he won top offensive player last season, running for 1,271 yards and a league-high 17 touchdowns. On the opposite side of the ball, Aaron Donald piled up 19 1/2 sacks for the Rams in one of the best seasons ever for a defensive tackle.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers also have had superb years.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden won’t have a say in the MVP voting — a nationwide panel of 50 media members who cover the league will decide — but he did see the Rams earlier this season and the division-rival Chiefs and Chargers twice apiece. And Gruden was left with his jaw hanging open after watching Mahomes shred his defense in their regular-season finale Sunday.
“He’s a trick-show artist. This guy here is an amazing quarterback,” Gruden said. “If you counted the top 20 throws he made at Texas Tech, they were the top 20 throws in the country. He’s an amazing talent and it is a credit to Andy (Reid) for trading up and getting him, and it is a credit to them for letting him watch a guy like Alex Smith for a whole year.”
It’s not just that Mahomes has shattered records, either. It’s that his rare ability — a big arm, sharp intellect, uncanny poise and natural leadership — has helped those around him flourish, many of them setting records in their own right.
Tight end Travis Kelce set the Chiefs record with 103 catches this season, topping by one Tony Gonzalez’s mark of 2004. Kelce also broke Rob Gronkowski’s NFL record for tight ends with 1,327 yards receiving, though the 49ers’ George Kittle topped him later in the day.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill had 101 yards receiving against the Raiders, matching the club record with his sixth 100-yard game. Hill’s total of 1,476 yards easily eclipsed Derrick Alexander’s mark of 1,391 yards receiving, which had stood since the 2000 season.
Together, Kelce and Hill became the first pair of teammates in NFL history to each total 1,300 yards receiving and at least 10 touchdowns apiece in the same season.
“It’s been special: 1-5’s a different guy,” Kelce said of his quarterback. “He’s a special individual. What he does for this team, the community, is unbelievable. It sure has been a pleasure to play with him and to witness the greatness that he’s been able to put out there on the field.”
Altogether, the Chiefs became the first NFL team to score at least 26 points in every game, and their total of 565 points represented the third most by any team in history. And the result was a third straight division title for the first time in franchise history, and a potential path all the way to the Super Bowl that runs right through Arrowhead Stadium.
The scary thing for the rest of the league? Mahomes is just getting started.
“In a world of great players, for him to do the things he’s done is phenomenal,” Reid said, “and he will continue to do that. He still has room to grow. That’s the exciting part and something for Kansas City to be very excited about. His work ethic and everything else is MVP-caliber level. He comes to work with a purpose, makes everyone feel a part of it, makes everyone around him better and has done that for our organization, for all of us, his fans and coaches and owner too.”