Sullivan: Impossible to ignore Bills' Mahomes misfire

Jerry Sullivan

Sorry to rub it in. I’m sure Bills fans would prefer to let it go, to find hope and comfort in what they have, rather than dwelling on what might have been.

But it’s going to be awhile before any objective soul can get over the fact that the Bills passed on a chance to get Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft.

It’s fine to gush about Sean McDermott, who has done wonderful things since becoming head coach three years ago this month. But history will likely reflect that he made a colossal mistake by trading the 10th overall pick to his mentor, Andy Reid, on the night of that ’17 NFL draft.

You can rationalize by saying that Doug Whaley was the de facto general manager at the time. Come on. Whaley was fired the next day. The Pegulas had invested McDermott with unprecedented power, and the ultimate decision to move out of that pick and wait on a quarterback (the Bills also missed out on Deshaun Watson) was his.

On the night of the deal, while people were praising McDermott for collecting draft assets, I pointed out that Reid was one of the winningest coaches in NFL history and you might at least want to give him some credit for knowing a potential star quarterback when he saw one.

That guy was Mahomes, who threw 50 touchdown passes and became league MVP in his first season as a starter last year and proved Sunday that he’s the best quarterback on the planet. With all due respect to this year’s likely MVP, Lamar Jackson, there should be no debate on that.

Mahomes was magnificent in the AFC championship game, throwing for 294 yards and three TDs and scoring a fourth on a fabulous 27-yard scramble as Kansas City beat the visiting Tennessee Titans, 35-24, to reach their first Super Bowl in half a century.

For the second week in a row, the Chiefs fell behind early, then went on a withering offensive assault that left their opponents staggered and lost for answers. A week earlier, they had scored on seven straight possessions and put up 51 points after falling behind the Texans, 24-0.

Sunday at Arrowhead, the Chiefs twice trailed by 10 early — 10-0 and 17-7 — before putting together five TD drives in a span of six possessions to put Tennessee’s three-week Cinderella run to an emphatic end.

Mahomes also put a momentary halt to all the talk about the NFL reverting back to a running mentality. He left no doubt that it remains a passing league, and that he is the best thrower in the sport — the best damn player, period.

In the end, the Titans simply couldn’t stop him from making big plays with his arm — and on one unforgettable play, with his legs. And when Tennessee tried to contain Mahomes’ passing, it opened up the running game and KC wound up outgaining the Titans on the ground.

There’s an irrepressible quality about Mahomes, a sense that you can only hold him back for so long. He strikes quickly, like a viper. With the Chiefs trailing, 17-7, he marched them 63 yards to a score in just 2:36, rolling out to hit ex-Bill Sammy Watkins for a big play, then finding Tyreek Hill for a 20-yard TD with 4:03 left in the first half.

“Better not leave him too much time,” I thought when the Titans took over. They went three-and-out. Mahomes was on the move again. He took them 86 yards in just 1:40. He hit Travis Kelce and Watkins with crucial throws, then made the play of the day, scrambling down the left sideline, cutting back to the middle, and spinning away from two tackles inside the 5-yard line for a 27-yard TD run.

You don’t hear a lot about Mahomes’ running. But when it’s required, he’s every bit as dangerous a runner as the Bills’ Allen. He’s a superior athlete, the son of a Major League pitcher (Patrick Mahomes) who could have played baseball at a high level. His godfather, former big-league pitcher Latroy Hawkins, says his best sport was basketball.

Watching Mahomes move, you can see how he would excel on a basketball court. He has an uncanny gift for improvisation, an ability to see the action unfolding in front of him, to observe how the defenders are moving to contain him and to get the ball to his teammates.

He also has the most vital instrument, a great throwing arm. Allen has a big arm, too. But Mahomes is in another universe as a passer. Bills fans can only dream that Allen, who possesses the same qualities as a competitor, will one day be as accurate and decisive while throwing on the run.

Reid realized Mahomes was something special when he made that trade with Buffalo on draft night in 2017. He couldn’t have known how special, but the guy didn’t win more than 200 NFL games as an offensive-minded coach without knowing a great quarterback when he saw one.

His vision was rewarded last season, when Mahomes became MVP in his first year as a starter. Now the Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl after half a century and Reid has a chance to win his first Lombardi Trophy and put to rest his reputation for never winning the big one.

In time, maybe McDermott will get there, too. Allen is a dynamic QB with great possibilities. Bills fans can take comfort in knowing that while they didn’t get Mahomes, that trade brought a Pro Bowl cornerback and a pick that helped land linebacker Tremaine Edmunds the next year.

Of course, anyone who suffered through the playoff drought knows that cornerbacks and linebackers only get you so far. As Andy Reid could tell you, wondrous things tend to happen in the NFL when you get the quarterback right. In Mahomes, the Chiefs got the best in the game.

Jerry Sullivan is a sports columnist with over 30 years experience in Western New York, as well as the host of The Jerry Sullivan Show from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. weekdays on 1270 AM The Fan. Follow him on Twitter @ByJerrySullivan or respond via email at scoreboard@gnnewspaper.com.

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