Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the NFL.
Jalen Hurts may be the second-best.
Super Bowl LVII on Sunday will mark the first time ever that two Black quarterbacks will be starting in the Super Bowl. It’s also a fight for the NFL’s center stage. Does Mahomes, who’s had the stage for the last five years, stay there, or does he make way for Hurts?
Mahomes is dealing with a sprained right ankle that the Kansas City Chiefs’ star quarterback injured in the Chiefs’ AFC Divisional Round game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hurts is still dealing with a right shoulder injury that he suffered against the Chicago Bears on December 18 in Chicago.
Mahomes threw for a career-best 5,250 yards this season, with 41 touchdown passes, the second highest of his career, and 12 interceptions, matching a career-high. And if anyone was going to push Mahomes for league MVP, it was going to be Hurts, who torched the Eagles record book, responsible for 35 touchdowns, 22 throwing and 13 rushing, while throwing for 3,701 yards.
Mahomes will be the most dangerous player on the field.
“You have to make sure that you rush together and try to keep him I the pocket, because you see the plays he makes outside the pocket, and we know we have a task,” Eagles’ defensive end Brandon Graham said.
Mahomes said the shooting pain running up his right leg is gone. He stressed that he is undergoing some soreness and was in full gear for the Chiefs’ practice on Thursday. Mahomes still maintains he will be not 100%, though a 90% Mahomes is still much better than 99% of the quarterbacks in the NFL.
He will need to be mobile to escape the Eagles’ vaunted pass rush, which has 78 sacks (including the postseason), the third-most ever by a team in a single season, including playoffs.
“They’re great all of the way through, I think that’s the biggest thing,” Mahomes said about the Eagles’ defense. “In the NFL, there’s always great players, but to have Pro Bowl players all throughout the defense, it’s what makes a special type of defense and why they’re in this game. We under the d-line is on a historic pace for sacks, and rushing the passer, but they’re also good against the run. We just have to make sure we execute, and we realize this is going to be a big offensive line game and set the tone.
“For me, getting the ball out of my hands and creating positive plays, and trying to prevent those negative plays, which they seem to thrive on, as the season went on.”
Mahomes’ injury can regulate him from getting outside the pocket. Eagles’ defensive Jonathan Gannon does not like to apply pressure, but who is to say Gannon does not change things and attack Mahomes to see how healthy his ankle is? Gannon will need to get Mahomes off his spots and see how much contact he can take. If Mahomes can move, the Eagles have a formidable enough defense to run what they have all season.
“When it comes to Patrick Mahomes, man, he’s a tremendous talent,” Graham said. “I don’t know if you can contain him - I just don’t know, he’s that good. I will not lie, he is.”
Mahomes has had 14 game-winning drives in his Hall of Fame-bound career. Hurts, who’s just starting to blossom, has had four in his scant experience. What could determine the game is Mahomes’ willingness to take risks. Hurts may not.
With risks come mistakes.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written features for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, and his breaking story on Carson Wentz for PhillyVoice on January 21, 2019. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.