HomeSportsWhy the Mahomes-Allen rivalry could be more interesting than Brady-Manning

Why the Mahomes-Allen rivalry could be more interesting than Brady-Manning

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It felt like a game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better.

Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes put their tremendous physical tools on display in their divisional-round matchup on Sunday night at Highmark Stadium. It was a joy for everyone to watch. The only disappointment was that the season had to end for one of them.

And yet again, it was Allen. The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills 27-24.

And while many folks compare this rivalry to that of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, it isn’t quite like that. It’s something new. And — maybe — it will turn out to be something even better.

The game was an up-close look at the evolution of football, with two quarterbacks playing both in and out of the structure of their system. With two quarterbacks making throws that Brady and Manning weren’t allowed to attempt. With two quarterbacks pushing football’s frontier.

That’s what makes the rivalry between Allen and Mahomes special.

“Every time I go up against Josh, I know it’s going to come down to the end, just because of the competitor that he is and the player that he is,” Mahomes said postgame Sunday. “Same when I go against Joe [Burrow], against Lamar [Jackson] — all these guys. You appreciate that stuff. These are the games that I watched growing up: Great quarterbacks going against each other with great football teams, great organizations. That’s what I remember. 

“Hopefully, Josh and I — we’re making memories for the kids growing up watching football.”

You’re probably thinking: Scoreboard. Allen has yet to beat Mahomes in the postseason. But that doesn’t make their rivalry any less interesting. Chiefs receiver Rashee Rice saw what everyone else could see after Sunday night’s game. When I informed him that Mahomes had won all three of his playoff games against Allen, Rice put that into simple context.

“What would you think about that? He’s better than Josh,” Rice said. 

He added: “In the postseason out of Pat, I’ve seen someone that really don’t know how to lose.”

Rashee Rice on Mahomes defeating Allen again: “He’s better than Josh”

It’s hard to argue with either statement. But it’s not like Brady and Manning didn’t get off to a one-sided start. Manning lost his first two postseason appearances against Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots. But Manning (first with the Colts, then the Broncos) won his next three matchups against New England. 

It feels as though Allen may never get a win over Mahomes, particularly because the Bills had home-field advantage for the first time on Sunday. The thought was that, with the support of Bills Mafia, they’d break enough tables to get a win. His luck could turn.

In the meantime, the Chiefs are still the Bills’ big brother. Even if not all of them will admit it in such blunt terms as Rice.

“I think that just goes to show that this is going to be something to see for a long time,” Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie said postgame in the locker room. “This rivalry is special. There’s a lot of respect. It’s pretty competitive. That just shows how good these quarterbacks are. Year after year, they continue to get here and play each other.”

But it’s not just that.

There’s the real sense that they’re pushing each other, which is changing the NFL as we know it. 

Mahomes bests Allen in first road playoff game

Again, it’s reminiscent of Manning and Brady. Think back to 2007 when Brady shattered basically every passing record, many of them set by Manning in 2004. It was the crown jewel of quarterback play. Then, of course, Manning put together something even more impressive in 2013 and reset the records, many of which still stand. Brady has the Super Bowls, but Manning still holds that passing touchdown record (55) and passing yards record (5,477). And even when that record falls, Manning will have done it in one fewer game than anyone else will ever do it.

It felt like a decade of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better.

This is more or less what’s happening with Allen and Mahomes — and even Lamar Jackson. They’re changing what we think is possible at the quarterback position. They are paradigm changers. That’s what makes them all the more interesting. It’s not just that they’re having success, it’s that they’re having success in ways that we didn’t think were feasible. 

Mahomes’ no-look throws. Allen’s fadeaway jumpers (while falling out of bounds). Jackson’s running style that makes him almost impossible to tackle.

Those assets are actually part of what prevented them from being the top quarterback in their draft classes.

That’s why Jackson went 32nd overall. That’s why Mahomes was the 10th overall pick and the second quarterback taken in 2017. That’s why Allen was the seventh overall pick and the third quarterback taken in 2018. Jackson, Mahomes and Allen were all athletes unlike anything we’d really seen at the position. And Mahomes and Allen, in particular, made decisions and played the position in ways that some thought could not work in the NFL. 

But it’s working. 

Ten years ago, everyone wanted to find the next pocket passer like Brady and Manning.

Now? NFL teams are looking for brash, rule-bending quarterbacks to build their offenses around.

They’re looking for the next Mahomes or Allen.

The league demands athleticism at the quarterback position. But more than that, it demands an athlete who has the creativity to see the field as both a passer and runner.

And while the rivalry between Mahomes and Jackson could be compelling if the Ravens pull off a win on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, there’s something special about how many similarities Mahomes and Allen have in their games. Allen seems to be just one year behind Mahomes in development (because Allen came into the league one year later). And it felt like Allen had a breakthrough year in 2023 after a tough start to the season. It felt like a breakthrough all the way until the fourth quarter against the Chiefs, when Allen — yet again — couldn’t hang with Mahomes.

Dave Helman, Henry McKenna break down Bills’ crushing loss to Chiefs

Mahomes still seems one year ahead of Allen — one wrung higher than Allen on the scale of greatness.

But that doesn’t make me any less excited for their next chapter.

The Bills’ torturous role in this rivalry is too painful for us not to rubberneck. The Chiefs are too close to perfection for anyone to lose interest. It’s the kind of story that has the potential to capture our attention for a very long time.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna. 


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