The Kansas City Chiefs are the closest thing the NFL has to a living dynasty now because they're hosting their fourth consecutive AFC Championship Game, they're vying for their third consecutive Super Bowl trip, and they're chasing their second Super Bowl title in three years.
So, yes, the Chiefs are obviously very talented and very well coached.
But the truth is this team has continued to prosper because it has gone beyond sheer talent. This team has grown.
Maturity to go along with great talent.
That's a great combination. And the greatest and most impactful growth has arguably come from Kansas City's three best players:
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Tight end Travis Kelce.
And receiver Tyreek Hill.
Are these still great players? Yes.
But they're more dangerous than ever because they've grown up. Together. This year. And that's bad news for the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game and any future opponent.
“Well, they are talented, and I think they enjoy playing with each other," coach Andy Reid said this week. "They’re always talking. In between periods, they go over and work together on the side field and just make sure their chemistry stays sharp.
"It’s one thing to have it, but it’s another thing to practice hard and make sure you keep it
growing, and they’re willing to do that.”
If you need an illustration of the growth this trio has experienced, then replay the most important moments of the Chiefs' victory over the Buffalo Bills last Sunday.
The biggest moment came when the Chiefs trailed 36-33 with 13 seconds to play.
Mahomes connected with Hill on a 19-yard pass and then, after the Bills called a questionable time out, Kelce and Mahomes basically drew up their own plan for what they were going to do next -- as in ignoring the route Kelce was supposed to run on a play-call and where Mahomes was supposed to look first in his reads.
This isn't about Buffalo's questionable strategy in lining up in the same defense two consecutive times, before and after a timeout.
This is a veteran tight end sizing up the defense, communicating succinctly to his quarterback and both getting on the same page within seconds. And both of them, confident they had found a weakness in an opponent, go off script and execute a game-defining play.
That's a sign of maturity. A sign of growth.
And a bad sign for the rest of the NFL -- because this wasn't unique to this game.
“Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of that during the game," Mahomes said. "It’s not necessarily on the field every single time. There’s a lot of times where we look at the tablet and talk about the different routes that we have.
"The great thing about this offense is a lot of the stuff looks the same. It comes from different formations that we can kind of read off of what the different defenses are doing. Everybody has their input.
"I think that’s what makes us such a great team and a great offense, is that we have communication throughout the entire game and then we go out there and execute at a high level because Coach Reid gives us that freedom.”
Reid can offer that freedom because his stars are veterans. They're not just winning on superior physical talent. They're also winning the chess game before the play even begins.
And, interestingly, all three players have advanced together on this front.
“Yeah, it just takes a lot of reps," Mahomes said. "Just going out there and seeing a lot of different coverages. The good thing about being in this offense with the guys that we have is we’ve seen possibly every coverage you could see. Guys have seen those, they recognize those on the field, and they know how to get themselves open within the system of the offense.
"I think that’s what you see, even on the play to Travis. He knew what the other guys had on the play, so he knew that he could do that, he could go down the seam and get the catch. You have to be able to not only know what you have, but know what everybody else in the entire offense has. That just comes with guys that know the offense and run it the right way.”
Mahomes is in his fourth season as Kansas City's starter, but he's already fully formed and fully matured in many ways.
“I would tell you just the whole grasp of the way to use the offense," Reid said of his quarterback. "There are little subtleties that you just have to experience and learn, and he’s done that. He’s a real smart kid, and he wants to know all the ins and outs.
"And he’s willing to try those things in practice, so when you get into a game, it’s not
foreign. You love his attitude and how he goes about working it.”
Earlier this season when teams deployed Cover-2 defenses, designed to keep two safeties deep to protect against big plays by the Chiefs, there was frustration in Kansas City.
This strategy took Hill, Mahomes and even Kelce some time to figure out a response.
"It's hard, especially for me, because I'm used to going 80 every play," Hill said in November.
But here we are in January, and Hill finished the regular season with a career-high and team record 111 catches while also delivering another season of more than 1,000 yards, his fourth in five years.
"Every year, he's gotten better," Reid said. "Now, he's refining all of those wide receiver skills that he's learned here, and with his talent, he's a tough one to stop."
The Chiefs have scored 42 points in both their victories this postseason. That's pretty tough to stop. And this is also pretty tough to stop:
"I’ve played in some big games, had to make some comebacks, and I have the teammates to do it," Mahomes said. "I know what it takes to go out there and find a way to win."
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