Patrick Mahomes passing king: Can he match Unitas?

Patrick Mahomes passing king: Can he match Unitas?
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Patrick Mahomes threw for a league-leading 5,250 passing yards this season. Which meant he sat top of the passing yardage charts in the NFL this season. Not to mention that the Chiefs finished tied with the Eagles for the best record in the league at 14-3.

As Kansas City are the AFC 1 seed they now get to sit up and watch the others tear strips off each other. It all looks pretty good for the men from Arrowhead. Except for one small detail. No team with the NFL passing yardage leader at the helm has won the title in the same season they recorded that stat since 1959.

Mahomes & Unitas – the stats

1959 saw Unitas lead the 9-3 Colts to a second straight NFL title with a 31-16 win against the New York Giants. This followed a milestone game title win in 1958.

In 1959 Unitas had an MVP season leading the NFL in yardage, touchdowns and completions. His final stat line for the year being 193 of 357 for 2899 yards and 32 touchdowns.

This season Mahomes has to be considered for the MVP award I am sure. His final stat line for the 2022 season reads 435 of 638 for 5250 yards and 41 touchdowns. He led the league in both yardage and touchdowns thrown.

But how to do a direct comparison? Unitas was the first and only player to throw for 30 touchdowns in the first 40 years of NFL play. Plus his 32 TD’s remains a 12 game season record.

A more direct comparison

The best way to compare are probably averages and how they compare to other players of their own era. To do this we can break down their stats into per game averages:

Unitas (1959) per game stats 16 of 30 for 242 yards and 2.6 touchdowns.

Mahomes (2022) per game stats 26 of 38 for 309 yards and 2.4 touchdowns.

You can almost see the change in how the game has been played pop off the page. Let’s not forget too that Unitas was slinging it in an era that expected lower completion per centages and had less offensive protection in place.

How about compared to their own era?

In 1959 only Norm Van Brocklin and Billy Wade made it over 2000 yards passing. At the same time the nearest in TD passes was Bobby Layne,12 behind with 20. Unitas’ completion per centage was middle of the pack and his touchdown per centage led the league. A full 1.5% ahead of Charlie Conerly. A pretty dominant display.

In 2022 Mahomes was the only player to go over 5000 yards. Eight players went over 4000. Joe Burrow & Josh Allen were closest in terms of touchdowns – each throwing 35. Mahomes completion per centage sat him seventh, whilst his touchdown per centage was tied with Tua Tagavaiola for first and 0.1 per cent ahead of Burrow.

Getting the ring

In the grand scheme of things none of this really matters. You play the games to win the championship. I was going to say you play the games to win the ring. But in 1959 the Colts offered players a ring, wristwatch, or silver tea service in honour of the victory. Unitas chose the tea service as he already had a ring!

He got that tea service by delivering in the big game too. The Colts, who led the league in points and yardage squared off against a Tom Landry’s Giants D that led the league in scoring defence and yards allowed.

After three quarters in was 9-7 Giants. In fact in the third Baltimore managed just one thrid down. Big players show up in big moments they say. Unitas oversaw a 24 point outburst ruhsing in for one TD and passing for another along the way. For the second year in a row Unitas was the championship game MVP.

The bar is set high

So that’s the bar for Mahomes. Break with 63 years of history and deliver a championship alongside being the NFL passing yardage leader. (see footnote) And for good measure take the MVP award in the Super Bowl?

Otherwise we have to argue that Unitas 1959 season was better given everything it delivered. Unitas delivered a second NFL title in his fourth year in the league. Mahomes deliverd his first title in his thrid year and came close in his fourth. Now in his fifth year as a starter comes his chance to match Unitas.

A lot of great players have come close and failed so it will be interesting to see how Mahomes fares. It is fair to say though when you are being compared to a legendary player like Unitas you are doing something right.

Banner Image: Patrick Mahomes in action. Image from chiefs.com

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