Even after an out-of-nowhere and crushing defeat in Super Bowl LV, it's difficult to believe quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs won't soon get another chance.
But Mahomes probably won't get another Super Bowl shot at quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That might make the Chiefs' 31-9 loss to Brady and the Bucs on Sunday night in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, sting all the more.
If this was the last chapter of the Mahomes-Brady rivalry, the Chiefs' quarterback will finish with a 2-3 record. Brady will have both of the big prizes, with wins in the 2018 AFC Championship Game -- when he played for the New England Patriots -- and in Super Bowl LV.
Sunday's defeat wasn't like any of the others for Mahomes since he became the Chiefs' starter in 2018. He had never lost a start by more than one score.
He has now. Mahomes had been 4-1 in his postseason career when the Chiefs were down by at least two scores, including all three playoff games last season.
The Chiefs trailed 21-6 at halftime in Super Bowl LV and never threatened in the second half.
"We can't let this define us," Mahomes said. "We have to continue to get better going into next year and prepare ourselves to hopefully be in this game again. We knew it wasn't always going to be successful and we weren't going to be able to win 1,000 championships in a row. We knew we were going to go through times like this and adversity. I think the best thing about it is the guys we have have the leadership ability to be even better next year."
Mahomes had not completed a pass on third down entering the fourth quarter and completed just 26 of 49 passes overall for 270 yards and two interceptions.
Brady, meanwhile, picked the Chiefs apart, and Kansas City helped him with penalties. On one first-half drive that eventually ended with a Tampa Bay touchdown, the Chiefs lost an interception because of a penalty. Then the Bucs took a field goal off the board after the Chiefs were penalized for lining up offside. Tampa Bay scored a touchdown instead on the next play.
The season didn't finish the way the Chiefs wanted it to end, but it doesn't mean their quest to become a dynasty is necessarily over. Mahomes lost to Brady and the Bucs, but Brady has lost the Super Bowl three times and has always bounced back to win again. He has won seven times now, including during his past two Super Bowl appearances.
Mahomes, 25, is under contract with the Chiefs through 2031, so it's hard to envision this being his last chance at a Super Bowl victory. He had another big season in 2020, throwing for 38 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
There were some bumps toward the end, notably the concussion-like symptoms that knocked him out of the divisional playoff win over the Cleveland Browns and a toe injury that hobbled him at times during the postseason.
Perhaps losing to the Bucs will fuel the Chiefs to make another run to the Super Bowl next season. They seem well positioned to make it happen. The Chiefs will have some challenges fitting all of their big salaries under the NFL's cap, but they can find their way around them.
Neither free agency nor age should be much of a factor. Their biggest potential free agents are wide receiver Sammy Watkins, cornerback Bashaud Breeland and safety Daniel Sorensen, all important but not indispensable players. Their only key player over age 30 is Travis Kelce, 31, who had his best season in 2020 and set the record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end with 1,416.
The Chiefs came to a universal reckoning as their 2020 offseason, their first as defending Super Bowl champions in 50 years, unfolded. They looked at the construction of their roster, with so many of their best players being young, in the prime of their careers and under contract for multiple seasons -- foremost among them Mahomes.
The realization was this: One Super Bowl championship wouldn't be enough, which makes Sunday's loss that much more bitter. But the Chiefs aren't done, and that idea was first voiced by defensive tackle Chris Jones, who at age 26 and signed through 2023 is among the core pieces of the young Chiefs.
"This isn't the only time," Jones said in the euphoric moments following the Chiefs' come-from-behind Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers last season. "We are going to crank this thing up. Kansas City, we are going to build something special here and we are going to come back. We are going to come back. This is not the only one we are going to win for Coach [Andy] Reid and the Hunt family. We are going to come back and we are going to make it happen.
"Win not only one championship [but] two, three, four. We've got to build a dynasty here."
That sentiment didn't die as the emotions of the moment did. In fact, it only increased. The Chiefs believe that if they look back sometime in the future at Mahomes' time as the starting quarterback and have only one Super Bowl championship, they might view this era as a failure.
"When we brought the nucleus of this team together, the idea was to have a team that would be together for a number of years," chairman Clark Hunt said after the Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl LV. "Many of the key contributors were very young when we either drafted them or signed them as free agents, and we're just watching the group grow up in front of our eyes.
"I certainly don't take it for granted. It's very difficult, as recent history has proved, for teams to get back to the Super Bowl or get back and win the Super Bowl."
This quest to repeat as champions became a rallying cry of sorts as the Chiefs assembled a 2020 roster that was remarkably familiar to the one from the season before. "Run it Back" became a theme for the organization. Outside the locker room, the Chiefs used it as a marketing slogan. Inside, the players used it as a motivational tool.
"I guess in years past we were the hunters," Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. "But they embrace being the hunted and they love that challenge, and these guys are always looking for ways to motivate themselves, so that was another way to do that."
The Chiefs responded with a 14-2 regular season, the best record in the NFL and in team history. They won 10 straight games, a streak snapped only in the regular season's final game when they rested all of their key starters after clinching the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed.
Playoff wins over the Browns and Bills followed, giving the Chiefs their final platform to Run it Back. They failed against the Bucs, and the disappointment could resonate negatively through the organization, as it often does for Super Bowl-losing teams, but on paper, at least, the Chiefs are built to last.
"Obviously it hurts right now,'' Mahomes said. "It hurts a lot. But we're going to continue to get better. We have a young group of guys that had a lot of success and we learned from that but we've had a few failures and we have to learn from that."