His stats weren't what they were during his MVP season of 2018, but Mahomes is still the biggest reason the Chiefs are optimistic heading into the playoffs.
"As long as you're out there on the field and you have Pat Mahomes on your side, you've got a chance," tight end Travis Kelce said.
Statistically, Mahomes isn't the same player he was in 2018, his first season as a starter. In 2019, he didn't lead the NFL in passing and didn't reach the impossibly high standard of throwing 50 touchdowns and for more than 5,000 yards, becoming only the second player to accomplish the feat.
His numbers this season were more modest: 4,031 yards and 26 touchdowns. Granted, Mahomes missed 2 ½ games in the middle of the season because of a dislocated kneecap, impacting those numbers. He won't be the MVP, having seemingly ceded that honor -- as well as the title of the league's hottest young quarterback -- to the Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson.
As a team, the Chiefs scored 451 points -- 114 fewer than in 2018, when they were No. 1 in the NFL. On average, they scored about a touchdown less per game.
"It really put in perspective how hard it is to go out there week by week and put up numbers and get wins," Mahomes said. "You know it's a struggle in this league. Teams are coming with their best effort, playing us really hard.
"I realized this year that it's better just to find ways to win rather than try to put up all these numbers."
The Chiefs finished the regular season at 12-4, the same as in 2018. They won their last six games and claimed their fourth straight AFC West championship. Thanks to some fortune on the final day of the regular season, they again earned a bye, this time as the AFC's No. 2 seed.
MVP numbers or not, Mahomes can surpass 2018 with a playoff run to the Super Bowl, which would be the first for the Chiefs in 50 years. The Chiefs came ever so close last season, losing to the New England Patriots in overtime of the AFC Championship Game.
And Kansas City enters the postseason with momentum.
"As an offense, I feel like we're kind of hitting our stride here as we get to the playoffs," Mahomes said. "Last year, we were kind of hot throughout the middle and as the season ended we kind of were fluctuating a little bit. I feel like we're really building right now at the end of this season."
Mahomes in 2019 had the second-best quarterback season in Chiefs history based off his passer rating of 105.3. In fact, his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 26-to-5 is better than it was in 2018 at 50-to-12.
"He set the bar so high for himself last year," said former Chiefs quarterback Rich Gannon, who helped call the season-ending win over the Los Angeles Chargers on TV for CBS. "But he still had a great season this year. If you take Lamar Jackson out of the mix and if he doesn't miss those 2 ½ weeks. ... I think he's going to finish in the top three of the MVP voting anyway. If he didn't get hurt, this would have been a lot closer race.
"He doesn't have as many touchdowns as he had last year. He doesn't have 50 touchdowns but the thing that's amazing to me is that he has [five] interceptions. That's just as impressive when you look at the number of times he's thrown the ball and look at the number of weeks they were banged up at running back or when they weren't running the football well and look at the number of weeks they didn't have [left tackle] Eric Fisher. You start looking at all that and you see a lot to like when you study this guy."
Mahomes dealt with other injuries during the season. He sprained his ankle in the opener against the Jaguars. He bruised his hand in a Week 14 win over the Patriots. Including the kneecap injury, Mahomes was listed on the Chiefs' daily report for one ailment or another every day from Week 2 until Week 17.
Mahomes was comparatively healthy in 2018.
"The injuries have been a hiccup, but he shows up every day and works his tail off," backup quarterback Matt Moore said. "He doesn't let the interruptions of injuries or anything else that's going on faze him."
Kelce said: "He's a competitor. He's an ultimate competitor. He's a tough guy. He's going to make sure that he's there for his teammates even when it's a little uncomfortable. I've seen him since he got here and this guy is more determined now than he's ever been."
The Chiefs have dealt with offensive injuries around Mahomes. Their best wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, missed four games. Their other starter, Sammy Watkins, missed two. The Chiefs were forced to start five different offensive line combinations because of injuries.
The Chiefs also went through most of the season without a consistent running game, which is always a quarterback's best friend. The Chiefs rushed for 98 yards per game this season, or 18 per game fewer than in 2018.
"He's learning how to win when things aren't perfect," offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. "... Now, he's making plays with his feet in the pocket. He's making a call at the line of scrimmage and giving us an opportunity to pick up pressure from a late-rotating safety.
"Don't get me wrong: You always want to see those games where we can have 400, 500 yards passing and a lot of points. But you have to know how to win when things aren't perfect."
That lesson appears to have been learned, and that's why the Chiefs feel they'll soon rid themselves of a 50-year-old Super Bowl burden.
"I know the Ravens got Lamar," Hill said. "The Patriots have Tom [Brady]. But we've got Patrick Mahomes, baby."