Was Patrick Mahomes a deserved Super Bowl MVP?
In the days following the Kansas City Chiefs win over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, many questions have arisen about what we witnessed on Sunday night. Most of them, naturally, centre around the 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan after their fourth quarter collapse. Why can’t Shanahan close out a win in the big game? Is Jimmy Garoppolo the future of the franchise? One question above them all, however, was the most immediately pertinent. Was Patrick Mahomes really the Super Bowl MVP?
Super Bowl MVP: Quarterback bias
There can be no denying that we are witnessing a special talent in Patrick Mahomes. Despite suffering a knee dislocation earlier in the season, he has consistently showcased the skills that made him a runaway NFL MVP winner last season. Without the injury, it’s likely he would have been on the coattails of Lamar Jackson to win the award for consecutive seasons. No player has achieved that since Peyton Manning clinched back to back MVP’s in 2008-2009. You need to go back another 11 years to Brett Favre’s 1997 shared MVP with Barry Sanders to find another player with consecutive MVP seasons.
The common denominator between the three players (Sanders excluded)? They all play quarterback and such as the NFL MVP Award, the Super Bowl MVP is a predominantly quarterback driven award. It is after all, the most important position in all of sports, right?
Herein lies the problem. Unless someone has a performance that breaks new ground for their position, or the quarterback play is truly terrible, there is a high probability that the Super Bowl MVP award will go to the quarterback of the winning team. In the history of the Super Bowl era, the Super Bowl MVP has been given to the quarterback 30 times. Only 10 defensive players have ever won the award. Only Ray Lewis, Dexter Jackson, Malcolm Smith and Von Miller have been voted as the Super Bowl MVP in this millennium.
Was Patrick Mahomes that much better than Jimmy Garoppolo?
All this is, of course, not Patrick Mahomes’ fault.
However, was his performance special enough to warrant the Super Bowl MVP? Was there no-one on either team that shone brighter? Was he even that much better than the widely derided Jimmy Garoppolo?
The final score and their play in crucial situations would indictate that Mahomes was far superior to Garoppolo in Super Bowl LIV. All Garoppolo needed to do was keep moving the chains in the fourth quarter and the 49ers would have been Super Bowl champions. However, he couldn’t. Shanahan’s game management on the final drive of the second quarter was a testament to a lack of faith in his quarterback’s ability.
Despite this, Pro Football Network had the two quarterbacks similarly graded by their Offensive Share Metric. Mahomes had a grade of 19.34 with Garoppolo receiving a 18.15 grade. Both were lower than their overall season grade.
Garoppolo had a greater pass completion percentage than Mahomes, and on average threw for more yards more completion. He threw the ball closer to the first down marker than Mahomes, as per NFL Next Gen Stats, indicating that Mahomes was relying on his receivers to make up the yardage to gain the first down. They both threw two interceptions, and Mahomes even coughed up two fumbles.
Crucially, neither resulted in a turnover of possession for the Chiefs. If they had, we could be talking about a different result, and a different MVP.
Which takes me back to my original question: should we be talking about a different Super Bowl MVP?
Damien Williams: Super Bowl MVP?
In the immediate, and not so immediate, aftermath of the game there has been a lot of drum banging for Damien Williams to have been the Super Bowl MVP. There is certainly a legitimate argument to be made for it.
Williams’ receiving touchdown with 2:44 on the clock gave the Chiefs their first lead since late in the second quarter. He then followed it up with a game sealing 38-yard rushing touchdown with just over a minute left to make the score 31-20. He ended the night with 134 total yards and two touchdowns.
Those highlights fail to mention the four first downs he picked up in the first half alone. In the statistics of the game you won’t see the two first downs he picked up when the Chiefs were at 4th and 1. They also don’t mention the spin move that made Kwon Alexander look foolish on his way to a first down early in the fourth quarter. All big plays that helped keep the Chiefs driving down the field and on the way to victory. You could almost call them the most valuable plays.
Unfortunately, a running back hasn’t won the Super Bowl MVP since Terrell Davis stomped all over the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.
Sammy Watkins: The latest wide receiver candidate to win Super Bowl MVP?
The Super Bowl MVP was won by a wide receiver just last year, with Julian Edelman winning the award in a defensive slug fest with no standout quarterback play.
There is good argument that a wide receiver should have won the award at Super Bowl LIV. If the San Francisco 49ers had been able to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy, Deebo Samuel would have easily been in the conversation for Super Bowl MVP. With 105 receiving yards, Tyreek Hill could have been a reasonable argument for taking away the award. For me, another receiver is equally, if not more, deserving than any of the contenders.
The post season has been Sammy Watkins season.
His performance in the AFC Championship win over the Tennessee Titans lifted the Chiefs to the Super Bowl and his performance in Miami was every bit as impressive.
You won’t be blown away by his box score.
5 receptions, 98 yards, 0 touchdowns.
You need to go beyond that to realise how important Watkins was to the Chiefs on Sunday night.
No other wide receiver, on either team, was as reliable as Watkins with an 83.33% catch completion percentage. This from a player who has just two career seasons with a completion percentage over 60%. No other receiver was pressed so closely at the line of scrimmage (4.0 yards cushion), yet he managed to create more separation (4.5 yards at the point of the catch) than any other receiver. There’s a lot of talk about Tyreek Hill being able to make plays after the catch with his speed and elusiveness, but Watkins averaged 1.6 YAC more than Hill in Super Bowl LIV.
I mentioned “most valuable plays” when talking about Damien Williams and Sammy Watkins made plenty of them on Sunday night.
Most Valuable Plays
How about on the Chiefs opening drive of the third quarter? With Mahomes flushed out of the pocket in his own endzone, Watkins broke free of Richard Sherman and came back to his quarterback to provide a first down option with Jaquiski Tartt barrelling down on Mahomes.
Three plays later, with Kansas City facing 3rd and 6 on their own 32 yard line, Watkins snagged a pass at the sideline for a nine yard gain and a first down.
On that same drive, Mahomes would be sacked, and then picked off by Fred Warner whilst trying to find Tyreek Hill. Sammy Watkins was wide open to his right and Mahomes never saw him.
The play that saw Damien Williams give the Chiefs the lead with just three minutes left in the fourth quarter was set up by Sammy Watkins. On a 2nd and 7 at the San Francisco 48, Watkins outfoxed Richard Sherman and caught the pass at the 49ers 25-yard line before eventually being forced out of bounds at the 10.
Big games. Big plays.
Watkins received an elite grade of 45.18 by PFN OSM in Super Bowl LIV, well above his season average of 31.86. He never scored a touchdown on Sunday night, but he made the most valuable contribution to the Kansas City Chiefs and their victory in Super Bowl LIV.
When the light shone brightest, he emerged from the shadows of players like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
Unfortunately for Williams and Watkins, for as long as the quarterback remains the highest paid and the most important player on most teams, the Super Bowl MVP will be forever skewed towards the position.
OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND SATURDAY BLITZ. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.