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COLUMN: Mahomes vs. Hurts: A tale of two quarterbacks

by Rick Thomas | February 11, 2023 at 10:00 p.m.

Perhaps it's just a tale of two cities -- I mean a tale of two quarterbacks. Sorry about that, novelist Charles Dickens.

I'm talking about today's Super Duper game otherwise known as Super Bowl 57. Sorry, Roman numerals folks, but it's hard to remember what some of your symbols stand for. I never did understand why XXX is 300 in Roman numerals and is an extreme porn rating in the United States.

Back to football.

Quarterback vs. quarterback.

Kansas City Chiefs's Patrick Mahomes against Philadephia Eagles' Jalen Hurts.

Sounds simple enough.

Mahomes is a product of Northeast Texas football. He played quarterback for Whitehouse High School near Tyler, Texas. There's a very indepth look at Mahomes' high school playing days on Page 7B in today's Gazette sports section.

Mahomes, 27, became the 10th player to win multiple MVP awards, his second in six years. He joins a list that features running back Jim Brown and fellow quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Kurt Warner and Steve Young. Manning was named MVP a record five times.

Mahomes led the league with his 5,250 passing yards and 41 touchdown passes during the regular season. His yardage total was the fourth-most ever in a single campaign, and it came in the season after the Chiefs traded star wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins.

"We've just seen him grow as a quarterback," Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said of Mahomes. "His talent level goes far beyond ... his ability to instinctually just go out there. He's playing a step ahead. He's always playing chess out there in terms of he's got three or four moves already in his pocket, depending on what the defense does. That's what's going to make him the greatest ever."

Numerically, Mahomes and Hurts are nearly identical physically. At 6-foot-1 and 223 pounds, Hurts is 1 inch shorter and 2 pounds lighter than Mahomes. That's dang close.

But a glance at the two players on game days shows a contrasting view. Hurts is noticeably bulkier than Mahomes, which helps him absorb more punishment on the running plays that fuel the Eagles' offense. Hurts is built like a powerlifter -- which he was in high school -- and a video shows Hurts squatting more than 600 pounds during his final year of college at Oklahoma.

Hurts' lower-body strength shined this season when the Eagles ran their popular quarterback sneak, which almost always converted short-yardage distances for first downs or scored a touchdown in goal-line situations. Flimsy tackle attempts rarely stop Hurts when he breaks from the pocket on scrambles and long runs.

Mahomes's legend grew when he led the Chiefs to two playoff victories while playing with a high-ankle sprain. They have hosted five straight AFC championship games and will seek their second Super Bowl triumph of the Mahomes era today in Phoenix.

Everybody talks about Mahomes' ankle, but they're forgetting that Hurts suffered a late-season shoulder injury that still seems to hamper him. He has thrown for only 275 yards in two playoff games while gaining fewer than 4 yards per rush. He says he's fine. But the pressure of playing in the NFL's biggest game will be a new experience.

Yes, the young Eagles quarterback is amazingly tough and versatile. His 15 rushing touchdowns this season, including the playoffs, are the most in NFL history. He also led the NFL with 12 passing touchdowns that traveled 20-plus yards in the air. He can grind it out and fling it, and when you need him to gain 1 yard for a first down, he can sneak it. No quarterback in the league is better at having larger teammates push him through the line.

Oh yeah, 24-year-old Hurts is a winner. He is 16-1 as a starter this season, including the postseason. Only Brady and Montana ever went 17-1 or better. Both teams are 16-3 entering today's matchup.

But Hurts hasn't had to win a game with his arm. Mahomes has won plenty of games with his arm and scrambling. Mahomes has thrown 10 touchdown passes under pressure in playoff games since 2018, the most in the NFL. He has led three lead-changing drives in the final minute of a postseason game three times.

A little research might help. The last nine AP NFL MVPs to play in the Super Bowl the same year lost the big game, according to NFL Research. Adding more historically bad mojo, the last to do so was Tom Brady, whose New England Patriots lost in Super Bowl 55 to the Eagles.

No player this century has captured the league's highest on-field honor and won a Super Bowl in the same season. It's a feat that hasn't been accomplished since 1999 when rookie quarterback Kurt Warner led the then-St. Louis Rams to a triumph after introducing himself to the football world in the first season of a Hall of Fame career.

Mahomes could become the first quarterback to win the regular-season NFL MVP award and the Super Bowl in the same season in 23 years.

There can be only one winner in a tale of two quarterbacks. I've got to go with a homegrown Northeast Texas football talent. Advantage, Mahomes.

Chiefs win, 31-24.

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