It wasn't easy for the Kansas City Chiefs, but all that did was make it even sweeter for everyone involved.
Super Bowl LVIII is in the books, and a familiar result was produced. Kansas City is a champion once again after a 25-22 thriller of an overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers. The come-from-behind victory was anything but normal, which served as a perfect encapsulation of the season that unfolded before it.
With that victory, the Chiefs did many brilliant things. Among them, Andy Reid's team cemented itself as a modern NFL dynasty and reinforced consistent yearly expectations that even the lowest of years couldn't push away.
Dating back to the NFL merger and the 1970s, each decade has been defined by at least one team that rose above its peers and accomplished the unthinkable. In the mid-to-late '70s, the Pittsburgh Steelers won four championships in four appearances. In the '80s and into the early '90s, the 49ers rattled off five Super Bowl wins and 13 winning seasons. The longevity of the 1992-1995 Dallas Cowboys leaves room for interpretation, although three championships in four seasons is hard to argue against.
This century, the New England Patriots accomplished the all-important "three titles in a five-year span" thing two separate times. For nearly two full decades, all they knew was winning and dominance and everything in between. In the final few seasons of Tom Brady's historic career, it looked like he was taking a particular interest in Patrick Mahomes and passing the proverbial torch to him. Looking back on Kansas City's recent results, that's exactly what happened.
Since Mahomes took over as the Chiefs' full-time starter back in 2018, they've consistently met the expectations laid out before them. In six years, their worst playoff outcome is losing in overtime of the AFC Championship Game. With Sunday's victory over San Francisco, they punched their dynasty tickets with ring No. 3 since the beginning of 2020. Kansas City is forever etched into NFL history as the next big thing, and Mahomes doesn't think they're done.
In a business like the NFL, results are oftentimes more important than the process used to get there. In counting accolades like championship appearances and wins, the bottom line is all that matters when things are looked back on years later. To completely ignore how this year's Chiefs team got to this point, though, would be foolish. Learning about Kansas City's journey helps explain how, even with detours taken along the way, its destination was reached safely.
During the regular season, the Chiefs couldn't get out of their own way. After a 6-1 start, Reid's club went through a 3-5 stretch of play that was littered with dropped passes, turnovers, penalties, a lack of focus and overall struggles. The boiling point was a Christmas Day loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, which led to plenty of folks writing the team off. At the time, that appeared to be more than justified. If a team showed its true colors for 16 weeks, why would things change in time for a deep playoff run?
Boy, did things change. Miraculously, at that. The Chiefs battled bitter cold, their first road postseason matchups in the Mahomes era and multiple games as the underdog en route to capturing their third ring in five seasons. They became the first team to beat four of the league's top six scoring offenses in one postseason. Their run, by DVOA standards, was the most challenging road to a championship that's existed dating back four decades. Mahomes came alive, the mistakes got cut down, the defense continued to be elite and Reid's adjustments were enough to see tangible changes.
To cap it all off, Mahomes led a double-digit-point comeback in the Super Bowl for the third time in his career. All things considered, it doesn't get more improbable than that. If there was ever any remaining doubt whatsoever, it's championship-or-bust for the Chiefs at all times.
It's something that gets thrown around a lot for teams that feel like they have a good shot at the title any given year. It doesn't always work out for that specific campaign, let alone over a multi-season span. Sustained excellence in the NFL is so difficult to achieve that most championship windows close just as quickly as they're propped open. The Chiefs opened their window back in 2018 when Mahomes was promoted to starter. Despite others (and even the team itself, this year) trying to close it, they seem to have a barrier preventing that from happening. Each season with Mahomes under center should come with championship expectations.
As Kansas City has witnessed in half of these six seasons, the year won't always end with someone on their side hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Another team will always get a slice of the pie. At this point, however, it's the Chiefs who are dishing out those slices. As crazy as it sounds, the league runs through them now.
The Chiefs are moving forward with one of the NFL's youngest defenses and expectations of an improved collection of skill position players for 2024-25. Reid and Travis Kelce should return, and Mahomes is in his prime. Some big-time free agent decisions remain, but this franchise has earned the benefit of the doubt that it'll do what's required to stay squarely in the mix. Coming off the worst regular season of Mahomes's time in Kansas City, the team still got it together when it mattered.
Regardless of whether it's fair or not, that should be the bar moving forward. Any year that doesn't end with the Chiefs putting a ring on their fingers is a failure. There are no true silver linings. If this season can end in a championship, just about any season can with No. 15 and company in the fold. That is a tremendous burden to carry, locking in the dynasty and subsequent anticipation for it to continue.