Patrick Mahomes does it again: Super Bowl MVP leads Chiefs to thrilling OT win – The Athletic

By Nate TaylorFeb 12, 2024

LAS VEGAS — Several men wearing red Kansas City Chiefs jerseys began crying.

When the seventh-longest game in NFL history concluded, center Creed Humphrey ripped his helmet off, his tears beginning to fall. Malik Herring, a three-year defensive end, fell to his knees at midfield at Allegiant Stadium, his emotions overwhelming him. Even before the Chiefs’ final drive of the season, Nick Allegretti, the backup left guard who started in place of All-Pro Joe Thuney, had tears in his eyes. Rookie Rashee Rice wept when he bear-hugged his coach, Andy Reid.

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The man who didn’t cry Sunday night, who simply exhaled — over and over and over again — was the NFL’s most talented quarterback, the league’s biggest game-altering superstar, the MVP of Super Bowl LVIII: Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes was the first person to hug receiver Mecole Hardman, the teammate who caught the game-winning touchdown pass. Then Mahomes ran to the Chiefs’ sideline, tossed his helmet and fell to the turf, rolling over on his back, his hands on his head, just above his red headband.

Mahomes’ final pass, an easy 3-yard, walk-off touchdown to Hardman, who was wide open in the corner of the end zone, finished the longest season in the Chiefs’ 64-year history with an unforgettable 25-22 comeback victory over the San Francisco 49ers in overtime in front of 61,629 fans in the NFL’s first Super Bowl in Las Vegas. The Chiefs claimed their third Lombardi Trophy in five years.

Once Mahomes stood up and collected his thoughts, he delivered yet another declarative message for the rest of the league when asked if the Chiefs are a dynasty.

“It’s the start of one,” Mahomes said before he and his teammates hoisted their newest Lombardi Trophy. “We’re not done.”

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In overtime, the Chiefs defense employed one of its best blitzes to force the 49ers to kick a field goal. Then, during a do-or-die drive, Mahomes orchestrated a 13-play sequence that produced his most memorable game-winning drive. The Chiefs celebrated becoming the NFL’s first repeat champion in two decades by sprinting from their bench and into one another’s arms, similar to school children hearing the final bell of the spring semester. The win cemented a golden era for the franchise and its status as one of the true dynasties in the league’s 104-year history.

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“This is one of the greatest teams of all time,” said tight end Travis Kelce, an 11-year veteran and the team’s longest-tenured player. “To go back-to-back is another tier. At this point in my career, I just enjoy coming into (the Chiefs’ facility) because I know I’m closer to not playing than I am to keep playing. I just cherish every single moment.”

Repeating as Super Bowl champion is one of the hardest things to do in the NFL. The Chiefs became just the ninth team to do it. They did so after posting the worst regular season in the Andy Reid-Mahomes era. And they needed to navigate their toughest playoff path as well.

As the AFC’s No. 3 seed, the Chiefs dominated the Miami Dolphins in freezing conditions. Then, in the first road playoff game of Mahomes’ seven-year career, the Chiefs rallied in the second half for a 27-24 victory, their defense holding the Buffalo Bills scoreless in the fourth quarter. They reached the Super Bowl with another road victory, a 17-10 win over league MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens, who entered the postseason with the NFL’s best record.

Aaron Schatz, the chief analytics officer of FTN Network and inventor of DVOA, said the Chiefs faced the hardest postseason road to a championship ever, based on the regular-season DVOA of their opponents.

“The journey we had to take, I think, (makes this) more satisfying than the previous Super Bowls,” pass rusher Chris Jones said.

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This season, a team that was once known for its high-powered offense and Mahomes’ improvisational passing needed to change its personality. Mahomes said Sunday’s game was symbolic of the Chiefs’ season.

The 49ers built a 10-point lead, scoring their first touchdown on a trick play. Quarterback Brock Purdy threw a short pass behind the line of scrimmage to receiver Jauan Jennings, who completed an across-the-field pass to running back Christian McCaffrey, who sprinted untouched into the end zone for a 21-yard score.

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The Chiefs showed their frustration on the sideline. Kelce shoved and screamed at Reid for taking him out of the game. Running back Isiah Pacheco shook his head after he fumbled inside the 49ers’ 10-yard line. Mahomes often felt pressure in the first half because the 49ers’ four-man pass rush — defensive ends Nick Bosa and Chase Young and defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave — dominated the Chiefs’ offensive line. When halftime began, the Chiefs trotted into the locker room having scored just three points.

“I hope people remember not only the greatness that we had on the field but the way that we battled,” Mahomes said. “It’s not always pretty.”

Chris Jones and the Chiefs defense held the 49ers to 12 points after halftime, giving Patrick Mahomes a chance to win the game in overtime. (Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

The most consistent unit for the Chiefs on Sunday once again was the defense, led by coordinator  Steve Spagnuolo.

No opponent this season scored 30 points on Spagnuolo’s unit, which allowed the fewest second-half points in the league. The Chiefs held the 49ers to 12 points in the final three quarters. Linebacker Leo Chenal even blocked the extra-point attempt after the 49ers’ lone touchdown after halftime. Although Jones never sacked Purdy, he pressured him throughout the second half, hitting the quarterback twice. Spagnuolo increased his blitzes, too, to better collapse the pocket. Six defenders hit Purdy. The Chiefs defense generated a season-high nine unblocked pressures, all of which came on blitzes, according to Next Gen Stats.

“That’s what we do, baby. We go on pressure, from left, right, center,” safety Justin Reid said. “I’ve said it since training camp: This is the most intelligent defense that I’ve been a part of, but also physically dominant. Guys know the checks and calls and there’s nobody who is scared to tackle. You want to run the ball to the edge, our corners are going to cut you in half. You want to run it down the middle, the safeties and linebackers are coming downhill.

“You match that with the ability of what Spags puts together in the game plan, it just puts us in a position to be successful.”

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The 49ers, led by coach Kyle Shanahan, made an interesting decision when they won the coin toss before the start of overtime. They decided to take the ball first, allowing the Chiefs offense to use all four downs if necessary to produce either a game-winning or game-tying score once they had the ball.

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“I think, as a defensive player, it’s a little disrespectful,” linebacker Nick Bolton said. “Playing for the guy next to you, we grew up together, man. Guys have been in the same scheme for three or four years. We wanted it for the brother next to us more than anything else.”

Spagnuolo broke his own play-calling tendency on the Chiefs’ final defensive play, a third-and-5 snap from the 9-yard line. The Chiefs surprised Purdy with a Cover 0 blitz. The secondary — including cornerback Trent McDuffie and safeties Mike Edwards and Chamarri Conner — covered the 49ers’ skill-position players well, allowing Jones to hit Purdy, who threw an incompletion.

“We had that as a third-down call throughout the game and we couldn’t get it,” Spagnuolo said. “We had it called one time and I think they went offside, so you just tuck it in your back pocket. I figured, ‘Hey, it’s a critical time, so pull it out.’ The guys did a nice job.”

After the game, Spagnuolo verbalized a thought many Chiefs fans must have had at the same time.

“Thank God we have Patrick Mahomes, that’s for sure,” Spagnuolo said.

With less than two minutes left in regulation, Mahomes led the Chiefs on a game-tying drive, going 64 yards before kicker Harrison Butker made the tying 29-yard field goal.

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Just before the Chiefs’ drive in overtime, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and quarterbacks coach David Girardi reminded Mahomes of one of his underrated skills: “Use your legs as a weapon at the right moments.”

Mahomes did. He led the Chiefs with 66 rushing yards on nine attempts. He fooled Bosa with a run-pass option play to gain 8 yards on a fourth-and-inches play. On another short-yardage play, a third-and-1 snap inside 49ers territory, Mahomes scrambled up the middle for a 19-yard gain.

“I don’t know why guys don’t spy him,” Reid said of Mahomes.

Mahomes went 8-for-8 passing on the final drive, completing passes to five teammates — Pacheco, Kelce and receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Rice and Hardman.

“It was an up-and-down year, but when our backs were against the wall, the guys got it done — Marquez, Mecole coming in midseason, Travis, Pat, Rashee, J-Wat (receiver Justin Watson), Pop (Pacheco) and the guys I’m honored to play with on the offensive line,” Allegretti said. “It’s such an awesome, awesome experience to be a part of this team.”

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The final play call included the phrase “Tom and Jerry,” a misdirection play that Mahomes knew was going to work.

Using the same motion as “Corndog,” which the Chiefs had used twice for touchdowns in last year’s Super Bowl win, Hardman went in motion to the left, then pivoted hard in the opposite direction. Kelce, who was on the same side of the formation, was used as a decoy as he attracted the attention of the 49ers’ last perimeter defender, cornerback Charvarius Ward.

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“Obviously, Coach Reid, man,” Mahomes said. “He knows when to call those plays at the right time. I believe he’s the best coach of all time.

“I know he doesn’t have the trophies yet — and I have a lot of respect for some of those great coaches — but the way he’s able to navigate every single team he has, and continues to have success no matter where he’s at, for me, he brings out the best in me because he lets me be me. I don’t think I’d be the quarterback I am if I didn’t have Coach Reid.”

The Chiefs, who lost five of eight to fall to 9-6 in late December, maintained their status as the league’s best by earning a second consecutive championship with gritty resolve.

Mahomes showed his leadership, creativity and acumen all season. But he played his absolute best when the Chiefs needed it in January and February.

“I’m going to celebrate at the parade (in Kansas City on Wednesday) and I’m going to do whatever I can to be back in this game next year, trying to go for that three-peat,” Mahomes said.

“I’m going to celebrate with my guys, because of how we’ve done this. But then we’re going to work our way back to this game next year.”

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(Top photo: Michael Owens / Getty Images)

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Nate Taylor has been a staff writer for The Athletic covering the Kansas City Chiefs since 2018. Before that, he covered the Indiana Pacers at The Indianapolis Star for two years. He has also been a sports features writer for The New York Times and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. A Kansas City native, he graduated from the University of Central Missouri. Follow Nate on Twitter @ByNateTaylor

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