TAMPA, Fla. -- It's being touted as one of the greatest Super Bowl quarterback matchups -- 43-year-old Tom Brady, "the GOAT," versus 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes, "the Magician." The winner of six Super Bowl titles pitted against the defending Super Bowl MVP, who's widely considered the heir apparent.
Many wondered whether their Week 12 matchup, in which Mahomes' Kansas City Chiefs bested Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 27-24 victory, would be their last, with Brady having left the AFC before the season. But lo and behold, they meet again in Super Bowl LV on Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS), with Mahomes getting a chance to gain ground on Brady's legacy and Brady looking to extend it in his first season with the Buccaneers.
They have a mutual admiration.
"He's done an incredible job," Brady said of Mahomes this week. "I really admire Patrick for the kind of player he is. He has great command of his team. I know his teammates love playing with him. He's got great charisma. When I see Patrick, I see someone who, none of these moments are too big for him. ... He's a tremendous player. A great leader. [He] always seems to play his best when his team needs it the most."
Said Mahomes of Brady: "The way he's able to dissect defenses before the snap is something that I truly admire, that I'm trying to get to that level. The way he's able to move within the pocket and to be able to reset his feet and to be completely calm and still make the throw right on the money no matter who's around him is something that I'll have to continue to work on. ... I'm going to try to do whatever I can to watch tape on him because he's doing it the right way, and you can tell by the Super Bowl championships he has and rings on his fingers."
They've already had four riveting matchups, all decided by one score. Here's a look back at those matchups and what fans can expect when the two meet Sunday.
Round 1, Oct. 14, 2018: New England 43, Kansas City 40
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 had won two straight games.
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.
Round 2, Jan. 20, 2019: New England 37, Kansas City 31 (OT)
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 from 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 to overtime. The Patriots won the coin toss and scored a 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, completing three passes on third-and-10 for first downs. Mahomes threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Damien Williams in the fourth quarter to give the Chiefs their first lead.
What they said: "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.
Round 3, Dec. 8, 2019: Kansas City 23, New England 16
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 got his first victory 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 that his 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: Kansas City 27, Tampa Bay 24
What it meant: In terms of big quarterback statistics, Mahomes came out blazing in an unforgettable first quarter. He threw for 34 yards to Tyreek Hill on the first play, and before the period was finished, he had TD passes of 75 and 44 yards to Hill and had thrown for 229 yards. Mahomes finished the game with 462 passing yards, with 269 of those going to Hill. Brady threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns, though the Chiefs intercepted him twice. Two Brady touchdown passes to Mike Evans in the fourth quarter narrowed what had been a 27-10 Chiefs lead and made the finish interesting. Though the Bucs would lose, it would be their last defeat of the season.
Best moment/pivotal play for each QB: Mahomes completed an 8-yard pass to Hill on third-and-7 late in the game to allow the Chiefs to extend their final drive and keep the ball away from Brady at the end. Brady threw interceptions on back-to-back third-quarter possessions, both with the Bucs in Chiefs territory.
What they said: "It was man coverage with no one over the top, and so we don't get that a lot, especially with [Hill] and his ability, and whenever we do, we try to take advantage of it." -- Mahomes on why he had so many big plays to Hill
"It's just external noise when you're losing, that's what you deal with. ... I've certainly got to go out and do a better job the last four weeks of the year.'' -- Brady
Who won this round: Mahomes, who evened his record against Brady to 2-2.
Round 5, Feb. 7, 2021: Super Bowl LV
What it means for Mahomes: Mahomes has two wins over Brady, but both came during the regular season. A win over Brady in Super Bowl LV would mean the world to Mahomes and put him on a short list of players -- along with Eli Manning and Nick Foles -- who have toppled Brady on the biggest stage. A Tampa Bay victory would give Brady two postseason wins over Mahomes. It would also give Brady seven Super Bowl victories, making Mahomes' effort to try to beat that number even more difficult. In terms of legacy, there's a lot riding on this game for Mahomes.
What it means for Brady: He's vying for his seventh championship, which would surpass Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan, one of his idols. But it's more than just that. As Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Brady teammate Randy Moss said, "Tom Brady's not ready to give up his crown yet." And the fact that he could win a Super Bowl with a new team that hasn't been to the postseason in 13 years, with no offseason and playing in the NFC for the first time -- all at the age of 43 -- could make it his most impressive feat yet.
Challenge Brady presents to Chiefs: The Chiefs have to defend him for 60 minutes. They did so for only 45 minutes in Week 12 this season, and Brady almost led the Bucs back to a victory with a big fourth quarter. The Chiefs were able to pressure Buffalo's Josh Allen relentlessly in the AFC Championship Game, but Brady, with his experience, presents a greater challenge.
Challenge Mahomes presents to the Bucs: Blitzing is defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' forte, but extra pressure doesn't rattle Mahomes much. He has a 96.4 QBR with 17 touchdown passes and zero interceptions against the blitz this season. To sack him, you've got to eliminate his options downfield so he has nowhere to go with the football, and you can't allow him to escape the pocket.
Who has the edge, in one sentence?
It's impossible to pick against Mahomes, who often plays quarterback on a level of his own. -- Teicher