After three epic games, Round 4 of Patrick Mahomes vs. Tom Brady could be the last

They aren’t just two of the league’s best with a penchant for big moments and big games — they are generational icons who have achieved universal recognition that transcends their sport.

With Brady, it’s always been a chess match. His success has come from methodically carving up defenses and fitting the ball into the tightest of spaces — although he’s taking many more chances in Bruce Arians’ offense as he tries to defy Father Time.

Mahomes, on the other hand, seems to defy the laws of physics and human anatomy on a weekly basis, contorting his arm into impossible angles to make equally impossible throws. While Brady brings will and determination — what propelled him from a seventh-string quarterback at Michigan and the 199th overall draft pick to a six-time Super Bowl winner — Mahomes brings the “wow.”

They’ve already had three riveting matchups, all decided by one score or less. With Brady now in the NFC South and seeing the AFC West only every four years, this could mark their last time facing off, unless both teams reach the Super Bowl before Brady retires.

Here’s a look back at those matchups, and what fans can expect when the two face off Sunday.

What it meant: The Chiefs were 5-0, and Mahomes, in his first year as the starter, was already setting the NFL on fire with 1,513 yards and 14 touchdown passes. The Patriots were 3-2 but on a two-game winning streak.

The game, appropriate for a Mahomes-Brady matchup, was high scoring. It featured nearly 700 passing yards, split almost equally between the two, and five touchdown passes, four from Mahomes. Mahomes threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill with three minutes left to tie the score at 40, but Brady then led a drive that ended with the winning field goal and a 43-40 Patriots victory. The Chiefs went on to a 12-4 record and the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed, with the 11-5 Patriots immediately behind.

Best moment/pivotal play for each QB: Brady’s three longest passes of the game came in the fourth quarter. None was bigger than a 39-yard throw to Rob Gronkowski that put the Patriots in position for the winning field goal. Mahomes had two long touchdown passes, the 75-yarder to Hill and one of 67 yards to Kareem Hunt.

What they said: “[Mahomes] made a lot of big ones — the one at the end to Tyreek was a great throw, and he had some other great throws. So tough to slow those guys down. They’ve been scoring a lot of points all year. They’re going to be pretty tough to stop, so glad we had our last shot and glad we took advantage of it.” — Brady

“I have the ultimate respect for Tom and everything that he did this game and his whole entire career. He’s had success in this league because he’s won games with last-minute drives like that. For us, you just have to find a way to win games like this. If you want to get to where you want to get to, you have to win games that are going to be tight and they’re going to be against really good opponents.” — Mahomes

Who won this round: Mahomes and the Chiefs sounded their presence, but Brady established early supremacy in the rivalry.

What it meant: The stakes were bigger this time as Mahomes and Brady met for the AFC championship. The first half had a much different look than the first game between the quarterbacks. Mahomes and the high-scoring Chiefs were frustrated by the man-to-man coverage of the Patriots and trailed 14-0 at halftime. But the expected shootout developed in the second half.

Behind three touchdown passes from Mahomes, the Chiefs were poised to advance to the Super Bowl when Brady had a pass intercepted late in the fourth quarter with the Chiefs ahead 28-24. But the play was wiped out by a penalty and the game eventually went into overtime. The Patriots won the coin toss and scored the winning touchdown for a 37-31 victory. Mahomes never touched the ball in overtime.

Best moment/pivotal play for each QB: Brady was at his best on the winning drive in overtime, when he completed three passes on third-and-10 to allow the Patriots to convert. Mahomes threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Damien Williams in the fourth quarter to give the Chiefs their first lead.

What they said: “I think we have overcome a lot this year. Down but not out, and we found a way to play our best the last four games — Buffalo, Jets, had the bye, played great against the Chargers and played really well today. We are going to need one more great game. That was a great way to end it. I was probably as excited as I have been in a long time. A lot of things, one play here or one play there could change everything, but that is football. I am just proud of our team.” — Brady

“It’s just how the coin tosses, I guess you’d say. It’s a thing where he had a great drive. He had a lot of third-down conversions. In big moments, guys made big catches for [Brady]. It’s a thing where all you can do is support your teammates, trust your teammates, and when you get your opportunity, go out there and try to make plays.” — Mahomes

Who won this round: Brady left with the prize, a trip to the Super Bowl, which he won to earn his sixth ring. Mahomes & Co. left with motivation for the next season.

What it meant: The Patriots were 10-2 and the Chiefs 8-4. After getting off to slow starts in his first two games against Brady and the Patriots, Mahomes had 226 yards, a touchdown pass and a 20-7 lead after the first 30 minutes. Brady and the Patriots rallied in the second half but fell short when a fourth-down pass into the end zone was knocked away by the Chiefs with just over a minute remaining. Mahomes finally got his win in the rivalry as the Chiefs won 23-16.

Best moment/pivotal play for each QB: Mahomes threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman in the second quarter to give the Chiefs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Brady lost what would have been a touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter when officials incorrectly ruled the receiver stepped out of bounds before reaching the end zone.

What they said: “Each game takes on a little different feel and the situations are a little different, and it’s a different team every year, too. So I may have certain experience doing things, but this particular team as a whole hasn’t been through different situations. So you just try to work through them over the course of the whole season, and we have three big games to go, and we’ve got to get back to winning football.” — Brady

“First off, I don’t think this will be [Brady’s] last season. He’s still playing at a high level. But yeah, you want to beat the best, you want to go out and play against the best and give your best effort. But it’s a team game, your team has to beat his team. That’s a really good football team, this is a really tough environment to play in, and so for us to find a way to win a game — it wasn’t pretty the whole time, it was just a tough, hard-fought win.” — Mahomes

Who won this round: Mahomes. Both teams finished the season 12-4, but the head-to-head victory earned the Chiefs a playoff bye, which forced Brady and the Patriots to play wild-card weekend, when they lost 20-13 to the Tennessee Titans.

Round 4, Nov. 29, 2020

What it means for Mahomes: Unless the teams wind up in the Super Bowl, this is probably it for Mahomes-Brady. A win would allow Mahomes to someday tell his kids he was even against Brady in four games. Brady would undoubtedly take pride in a 3-1 record against Mahomes if the Bucs win.

What it means for Brady: The Bucs are fighting for a playoff berth after falling out of first place in the NFC South with a loss to New Orleans in Week 9 and falling to the sixth seed in the NFC after losing to the Rams in Week 11. They know this next game will define the course of their season. This offense has put up big numbers but is still wildly inconsistent at times and has struggled with the deep ball in recent weeks, which has impacted its big-play ability. Coach Bruce Arians believes this has less to do with Brady’s arm and more to do with the lack of continuity with so many new pieces.

Challenge Brady presents to Chiefs: Brady looked his age in the Bucs’ Monday night loss to the Rams. The challenge for the Chiefs is whether they can pressure him as well as the Rams did. The Chiefs’ pass rush hasn’t been productive this season. The Chiefs need big games from Chris Jones and Frank Clark.

Challenge Mahomes presents to the Bucs: Todd Bowles’ defense is high risk, high reward. If offenses can beat the blitz, they can get chunk plays — and Mahomes is one of the league’s best at beating the blitz. Andy Reid also does a fantastic job of scheming his receivers open and finding those vulnerable spots in zone defenses for Mahomes.

Who has the edge in one sentence?

It’s difficult to pick against Mahomes, who might be on his way to the second MVP award of his young career. — Teicher

Mahomes has it. The Bucs’ pass defense has been shaky in recent weeks and is looking even more vulnerable without Jamel Dean (concussion). — Laine

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