How Patrick Mahomes has cultivated a Michael Jordan-like playoff aura


As Patrick Mahomes was dodging hostile snowballs Sunday night after helping the Chiefs win the best game of the NFL season, I couldn’t help but think of an especially tortured fan base.

No, not the snow-packing Buffalo Bills fans, who re-lived their worst nightmare on a 33-year delay when Tyler Bass missed a late would-be game-tying, 44-yard field goal to all but seal a 27-24 loss to the Chiefs in the Divisional round of the AFC playoffs. Wide Right II called back to Scott Norwood’s miss at the end of the Super Bowl XXV loss to the Giants.

I was thinking of Knicks fans. And then of Pacers fans, Jazz fans and any other NBA fan base whose 1990s stars were kept from winning an NBA title by Michael Jordan’s killer instinct.

Because Mahomes is shutting the championship windows of his Hall of Fame-caliber rivals – another year squandered for Bills quarterback Josh Allen – the way Jordan once did.

Maybe next time, Josh Allen? AP

Mahomes is headed to a sixth straight AFC Championship Game – one for every year he has been an NFL starter – and knocking on the door of a fourth Super Bowl appearance.

Allen, meet Patrick Ewing. Joe Burrow, meet Reggie Miller. Justin Herbert, meet Charles Barkley. Trevor Lawrence, meet John Stockton. Jalen Hurts, meet Karl Malone.

It’s a comparison I first posed to ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky – a former NFL quarterback – before the season.

“Patrick is the most talented I’ve ever seen in my life, and I think he goes down as one of the – if not the – greatest. And that will be dependent on how many Super Bowls,” Orlovsky said at the time, before stressing that football is more team-dependent than other sports. “But I think Joe Burrow wins a Super Bowl. I think Justin Herbert wins a Super Bowl. I think Trevor Lawrence has a great chance to.”

And yet none of those three will win a ring this year.

Lamar Jackson and the No. 1 seed Ravens are next up to try to take down Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

But Lamar Jackson still might.

Jackson, the presumptive NFL MVP for a second time in his six-year career, is next up to prove he can be a giant killer.

To prove he can do what only the greatest-of-all-time Tom Brady (twice) and Burrow (once) have done: Beat Mahomes in the playoffs.

To prove he can take advantage of a limited opportunity when the Chiefs might not be their best – as the Magic duo of Penny Hardaway and a young Shaquille O’Neal did by beating an unretired Jordan in the 1995 playoffs, only to have Hakeem Olajuwon steal away their championship.

This was supposed to be the year Mahomes was vulnerable because his supporting cast of receivers keeps dropping passes … and because he had to play on the road in the playoffs for the first time … and because Taylor Swift-mania has created a supposed distraction around the Chiefs.

In this Michael Jordan analogy, Charles Oakley and the Knicks are every AFC playoff team coming up against the final boss of Patrick Mahomes. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

And yet Mahomes led the Chiefs offense to its well-timed best game of the season and broke the hearts of Bills fans who believed this year would be different than when the Chiefs ended their 2020 season in the AFC Championship Game or their 2021 season in the Divisional round because this time the game was in Buffalo.

Just like Jordan broke the hearts of Knicks fans who believed 1993 was going to be different because the Knicks won the first two games of the series and had home-court advantage for a Game 7 (never happened), unlike the previous two years.

Sunday’s Chiefs-Bills game wasn’t the same shootout as the Chiefs’ 42-36 overtime win in January 2022. But it was the epitome of a modern football game.

It was dramatic, with five lead changes and nine scores on the first 11 possessions.

It was violent, with hits that made CBS analyst Tony Romo audibly cringe on air and injuries on both sides eroding the thin linebacker depth.

Isiah Pacheco (10) and Travis Kelce (87) combined to score the Chiefs’ three touchdowns in an instant-classic, seesaw 27-24 win over the Bills. AP

It was heavily influenced by officiating and instant replay, such as when an overturned call took the ball from second-and-goal at the 1-yard line for the Chiefs and made it first-and-10 at the 20-yard line for the Bills. Mecole Hardman’s leg was centimeters from touching the turf when he lost the ball and it rolled out of bounds through the end zone for a touchback.

It had great players making great plays, such as Travis Kelce fighting his way across the goal line for a second touchdown, Allen’s on-the-move 13-yard touchdown strike to Khalil Shakir and Isiah Pacheco churning his legs once for the decisive touchdown run and again on the two runs that gained the final first down needed to run out the clock.

It had questionable coaching decisions – none more so than Bills head coach Sean McDermott calling for a fake punt from his own 30-yard line on a fourth-and-5 with 13 minutes remaining.

And in the end it had Mahomes looming over the game with a Jordan-esque quality of being impossible to extinguish in big games.

“As good as the Chiefs are, I still think there are a bunch of good teams that have really good chances over the next couple years because their quarterbacks are super-young, wildly talented and they have really good rosters,” Orlovsky said before the season. “The window for most of the AFC teams is pretty darn big.”

The window was big for Ewing, Miller, Barkley, Stockton and Malone when the 1990s started, too. And nothing changed by 2000.

Mahomes might make it happen all over again to his AFC rivals unless Jackson stops him now.

Today’s back page

New York Post New York Post

So, you think you can coach?

Losers of four straight and six of their past seven games, the Islanders fired coach Lane Lambert on Saturday and replaced him with Patrick Roy, who made his debut in Sunday night’s dramatic overtime win over the Stars.

Roy hadn’t been behind an NHL bench since 2016, finishing his third season running the Colorado Avalanche with a 130-92-24 record that is impressive – but pales in comparison to his résumé as a player.

Roy arguably is the greatest goaltender of all time, winning four Stanley Cups with the Canadiens and Avalanche. Martin Brodeur — who idolized Roy — later broke most of his records in a different rules era.

Patrick Roy debuted as Islanders head coach Sunday with a skid-ending win over the Stars. Robert Sabo for the NY Post

So, it got us thinking. Is Roy the best former player ever to coach a pro sports team in the greater New York area? Turns out the list — based on playing credentials, not coaching/managing success — is so long that even some Hall of Famers get excluded (sorry, Lenny Wilkins), let alone other great players (sorry, Joe Torre).

10. Jason Kidd: The Nets’ winning percentage in three seasons before Kidd arrived was .314. He immediately led them to the 2002 and 2003 Eastern Conference titles during the best days of a career with 10 All-Star and nine All-Defensive Team selections. He spent one season as Nets head coach (2013-14) before seeking greener pastures.

9. Steve Nash: Not only was the dazzling Suns ball-handler and distributor the shortest player (6-foot-3) ever to win multiple NBA MVPs before Steph Curry, but Nash, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone are the only players to win multiple MVPs after their 30th birthdays. His tenure coaching the Nets’ Big Three (2020-22) was a bust.

8. Sammy Baugh: “Slingin’ Sammy” basically weaponized the forward pass in the 1940s instead of treating it as desperation play in a run-first game. He was the first head coach of the AFL’s New York Titans (who became the Jets) in 1960-61.

Isiah Thomas was a perennial All-Star as a player and an outright disaster as Knicks coach. Anthony J. Causi for the NY Post

7. Isiah Thomas: The two-time NBA champion “Bad Boys” Pistons had plenty of enforcers, but their shortest player was their go-to scorer. Thomas was a 12-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA selection who infamously feuded with Jordan. He was an on-court and off-court disaster as a Knicks coach (2006-08) and executive.

6. Bryan Trottier: He was at the core of the Islanders’ dynasty, winning four straight Stanley Cups during the middle of his 15 years on the Island (1975-90). He ranks No. 19 in NHL history in points (1,425), and is one of eight players with multiple five-goal games. He lasted just 54 games as coach of the rival Rangers in 2002-03.

5. Doug Harvey: A seven-time winner of the NHL’s Norris Trophy (best defenseman), Harvey was widely considered the best at the position before Bobby Orr revolutionized the way it was played. He spent 14 years with the Canadiens before three with the Rangers (1961-64), including one as player-coach.

4. Willis Reed: He won NBA Rookie of the Year, MVP and was All-Defensive Team with the Knicks (1964-75). More impressively, before injuries cut short his career, he won two NBA titles for the Knicks, capturing Finals MVP honors both times. He later coached both the Knicks and the Nets.

3. Yogi Berra: Forget all the Yogi-isms. He was a three-time MVP — tied for the most in history by a catcher — and 18-time All-Star while winning a whopping 10 World Series for the Yankees (1946-63) before he managed both the Yankees (two different stints) and the Mets.

“If you come to a fork in this list, take it,” former Yankees and Mets manager Yogi Berra might have said. AP

2. Patrick Roy: He is third among goalies in wins (551) and games played (1,029), but was the first to both the 500 and 1,000 plateaus, respectively. He won three Conn Smythe trophies (postseason MVP), three Vezina Awards (best goaltender) and five Jennings trophies (fewest goals allowed in the regular season).

1. Mel Ott: How good was Ott for the baseball New York Giants (1926-47)? He hit .304 while clubbing 511 home runs and totaling a Wins Above Replacement (110.9, per Baseball Reference) that is higher than Mickey Mantle’s and almost double Berra’s. But he had a losing record as Giants manager over seven seasons, six while he still was playing.

Yankees lineup machinations

As soon as the Yankees executed their offseason trade for Juan Soto, debating the lineup possibilities became a pastime.

Manager Aaron Boone revealed Friday on the “Foul Territory” podcast that he is one of us — thinking about it “all the time.”

He is leaning toward a lineup with Soto and Judge batting second and third, respectively. DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres and Alex Verdugo were mentioned as candidates to lead off.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he’s leaning toward batting Aaron Judge in the 3-hole. AP

It’s a noteworthy reversal for Boone, who has penciled in Judge to hit second 500 times over the past six seasons under the “Get your best player the most at-bats possible over the course of a season” theory. He even went as extreme as putting Judge in the leadoff spot 34 times during his American League-record-setting 62-home-run season in 2022.

The thinking behind slotting Judge behind Soto probably revolves around Soto’s .421 career on-base percentage, which is tops among active MLB players. The more times that Judge steps to the plate with runners on base, the more opportunities for him to drive in runs.

Still, that same goal can be accomplished with Soto leading off and Judge batting second, which would mean about 14 more plate appearances for both over the course of a full season, according to FanGraphs. That might not sound like a lot … until a close game ends on a LeMahieu groundout with Soto on deck and Judge in the hole.

Another possibility for Boone to consider is flip-flopping Judge and Soto so that Soto’s dangerous left-handed bat (especially in Yankee Stadium) is protecting Judge and giving the slugger better pitches to hit.

Juan Soto could fit at the top of the Yankees lineup or in a more traditional RBI spot. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

It is wishful thinking at this point to believe either Giancarlo Stanton or Anthony Rizzo scares opposing pitchers enough to throw more fastballs to Judge.

Boone also is a big proponent of alternating righty and lefty hitters to set up favorable late-game matchups under the three-batter-minimum pitching rule that handcuffs bullpens. Starting the lineup with either LeMahieu or Torres essentially guarantees that Judge will be third based on Boone’s righty-lefty designs.

Keeping all that in mind, here are two alternatives for the top seven that don’t have Judge idling third in the lineup.

Option A: 1. Verdugo; 2. Judge; 3. Soto; 4. LeMahieu/Torres; 5. Rizzo; 6. Stanton; 7. LeMahieu/Torres

Option B: 1. Soto; 2. Judge; 3. Rizzo; 4. LeMahieu/Torres; 5. Verdugo; 6. Stanton; 7. LeMahieu/Torres

One benefit of Option A: Torres’ career-low strikeout percentage in 2023 and LeMahieu’s history as a high-contact hitter — which resurfaced in the second half last season after too many strikeouts earlier — make them candidates to take advantage of Soto’s frequency on the base paths.

Giants’ past, Giants’ present, Giants’ future

One of the big questions in New York sports over the next few months is whether the Giants, who hold the No. 6 pick in the 2024 draft, will take a first-round quarterback to replace the oft-injured Daniel Jones as the future of the franchise.

Let history serve as a reminder not to force a quarterback pick based on timing instead of based on individual evaluations.

Daniel Jones’ future as the Giants quarterback is uncertain heading into the NFL Draft. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The 2018 and 2020 NFL Draft classes are all over the NFL playoffs.

The Buccaneers’ Baker Mayfield (originally with the Browns), Bills’ Josh Allen and Ravens’ Lamar Jackson — picks No. 1, No. 7 and No. 32, respectively, in 2018 — were three of the last six remaining starting quarterbacks (Mayfield and Allen were eliminated on Sunday).

The Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa and the Packers’ Jordan Love — drafted No. 5 and No. 26, respectively, in 2020 — led their teams to Wild Card berths. The Bengals’ Joe Burrow (No. 1) and Chargers’ Justin Herbert (No. 6) have been to the playoffs in the past and might have been back this year if not for season-ending injuries.

When it became clear the Giants were going to be in the first-round-quarterback market late in Eli Manning’s career, they passed on Allen and Jackson — as well as on disappointments Sam Darnold (drafted by the Jets at No. 3) and Josh Rosen (drafted by the Cardinals at No. 10) — to draft Saquon Barkley at No. 2 in 2018.

Packers breakout star Jordan Love was part of the quarterback class in the year after the Giants selected Daniel Jones. AP

Then, after a second straight disastrous season, the Giants felt increased urgency and drafted Jones at No. 6 in 2019. Kyler Murray (No. 1) and the late Dwayne Haskins (No. 15) were the other first-rounders that year.

Drafting Jones took the Giants out of the 2020 market — despite then-general manager Dave Gettleman’s high marks on Herbert — and directed them toward All-Pro left tackle Andrew Thomas at No. 4 over Tagovailoa, Herbert and Love.

In other words, the Giants picked their quarterback in what clearly was the worst class over a three-year span.

Keep that history in mind in April if the Bears, Commanders and Patriots draft quarterbacks Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels — in some order – with the top three picks.

Are the Giants tempted by former Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy or another prospect with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft? Getty Images

Are the Giants better off drafting Michael Penix Jr., J.J. McCarthy or another quarterback at No. 6 — under the pretense that they might not be this high in the draft order again for a while — or waiting until the 2025 draft and making a bold move for someone they identify as a better prospect?

It’s just one of the many considerations for general manager Joe Schoen in a critical offseason.

What we’re reading 👀

🏈 Jared Goff is the perfect leader for the blue-collar Lions team that has become the real “America’s Team,’’ writes The Post’s Mark Cannizzaro.

🏒 What a massive come-from-behind win for the Rangers over the Ducks in Anaheim, from down 2-0 to a 5-2 final with four goals in the final 10 minutes. Will Cuylle got the game-tying goal, and Artemi Panarin sniped the winner.

🏀 The Nets were outscored 22-0 over the final five-plus minutes to gag away a game to the Clippers in Los Angeles. The vibes are extremely bad.

🏀 How Julius Randle — fresh off a triple-double in the Knicks’ reunion win over the Raptors on Saturday — is thriving since the OG Anunoby trade.

🏀 Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer passed Coach K for the most coaching wins in NCAA history with No. 1,203 on Sunday.

🏀 Caitlin Clark got trucked by a fan storming the court after Iowa lost at Ohio State.

🏈 The Eagles sacked their defensive coordinator, and by god, that’s Wink Martindale’s music. Meanwhile, the Giants interviewed Larry Izzo for special teams coordinator.

⛳ What were you doing sophomore year? Nick Dunlap, a 20-year-old University of Alabama sophomore, became the first amateur in 33 years to win on the PGA Tour.

🎾 Coco Gauff, relatively quietly, is three wins away from her second straight grand slam title. She’s in the Australian Open quarterfinals Monday night.


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