How the Chiefs defense kept them afloat, setting the stage for the OT win – The Athletic

By Vic TafurFeb 12, 2024

LAS VEGAS — The San Francisco 49ers kicked a field goal to take the lead in overtime, and Kansas City Chiefs safety Justin Reid said to himself, “It’s over.”

He knew the Chiefs had won their second straight Super Bowl — not the 49ers — when teammate Chris Jones got pressure on San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy on third down to force an incomplete pass and the field-goal attempt.

Reid walked off the field at that moment smiling.

“We’re going to get the ball back to 15,” Reid said, out loud, of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who led the Chiefs on a 75-yard touchdown drive to no one’s surprise. The result: Kansas City 25, San Francisco 22 in Super Bowl LVIII.

Before Mahomes started running around to convert third downs and fourth downs … and long before coach Andy Reid called the “Corndog” short motion touchdown play for the second Super Bowl in a row, the Chiefs defense was making it all possible.

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While the 49ers dominated the first half, the Chiefs kept them within 10 points and then shut them out in the third quarter. They held running back Christian McCaffrey to less than 4 yards a carry (and forced a fumble in the first quarter) and knocked tight end George Kittle around and only let him get his hands on two catches for 4 yards.

The Chiefs defense sacked Purdy only once, but they ramped up the pressure late, especially when they held the 49ers to field goals at the end of the fourth quarter and again in overtime.

Chiefs defenders swarm 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk. (Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today)

Purdy didn’t have time to get the ball on would-be MVP Jauan Jennings against blitzes on both third-down plays. The one in overtime is going to stay with the second-year QB for a long time.

“Yeah, they brought (Cover) zero and I was trying to get the ball to JJ,” Purdy said. “That’s what was hurting me … to give them an opportunity to go down and win the game.”

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Justin Reid said the Chiefs stayed disciplined even when they fell behind 10-0.

“We didn’t have anyone playing hero ball,” he said. “We just played tough, physical, fundamentally sound unit defense. And when you have 11 dogs on the field doing that, good things tend to happen. So we were balled in, we were locked in. We were able to make some plays.”

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Purdy said he felt like it was third-and-long all night. The 49ers finished 3 of 12 on third down).

“Man, it was just tough, I feel like first and second down was tough,” Purdy said. “I have to be better on first and second down, taking what they have given me, and I feel like they were just sticky across the board when they played man coverage.

“For our defense to give us that many stops like they did, and then for us to not do anything with those opportunities, that’s what hurts me.”

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Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo put some pressure on his cornerbacks to give his defensive line a chance to win matchups.

“Our D-line kind of turned it up a little bit,” linebacker Nick Bolton said. “A lot of guys went on one-on-ones. … We used a little bit more man coverage, play a little more press, let our corners do what they do best and let our D-line do what they do — cause havoc for the quarterback.”

Jones, whose bull-rush up the middle in overtime set the stage for Mahomes, is due to become a free agent, but it’s hard to see him not returning for a chance at a three-peat. Especially when you see the display of affection between him and his coach during the celebration. And also when you hear him yell out that he loves Travis Kelce during his postgame news conference.

The defense never pointed fingers at the offense when the offense was struggling earlier in the season. Or when the defense led the Chiefs to road wins over the Bills and Ravens in the playoffs. Jones said he thinks the Ravens were the second-best team in the league.

“This is a special unit, for the guys in the room, for the relationships we were able to establish, and Spags, man,” Jones said.

“Spags has been amazing. His wife moved to Kansas City this year and I think it transformed our whole defense.”

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The Chiefs have owned the AFC West for almost a decade, and Justin Reid said they had the home-field advantage, playing at the Raiders’ stadium after the two road wins to get here.

“It was one of the hardest journeys to the Super Bowl ever,” Reid said. “Going through Miami, then going through Buffalo, then going through Baltimore, then coming here versus San Francisco in Arrowhead West.

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“Being an underdog in every game … you think about all of that. The blood, sweat, tears, effort, the grind that you had to put yourself through to get here. It just makes it all so amazing.”

(Top photo: Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones pressures 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy: Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today)

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Vic Tafur is a senior writer for The Athletic covering the Las Vegas Raiders and the NFL. He previously worked for 12 years at the San Francisco Chronicle and also writes about boxing and mixed martial arts. Follow Vic on Twitter @VicTafur

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