Patrick Mahomes led the Kansas City Chiefs on a game-winning touchdown drive in overtime as Andy Reid's side beat the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 to win Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas; it marks Mahomes' third Super Bowl victory in six seasons as Chiefs starter.
Tuesday 13 February 2024 09:16, UK
Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men throw, catch, run and hunt a ball for four quarters spanning roughly three hours, and at the end - Patrick Mahomes always wins. Or something like that.
The final play call was named 'Corn Dog', Mahomes explained. The play to win the Super Bowl. The play to crown the Kansas City Chiefs back-to-back champions. The play to undo every ounce of guile and glitter that allowed the San Francisco 49ers to steamroll half of the league on the way to Las Vegas this season. It was called 'corn dog'.
He is the NFL's undisputed best, celebrating his third ring before the age of 30, hurtling towards all-time greatness, and he is still a kid playing ball. The smartest kid, the most gifted kid, the kid in the playground nobody dare touch, the kid in the playground nobody can touch. Andy Reid, at 65 years of age, is living vicariously through his champion quarterback as that very same ball-loving kid.
They sketch up some funk, slap a quirky name on it, say 'why not?' and torment the league. The dosage of funk has lessened in consistency in the face of the league-wide Mahomes bounty, and yet here he is again. Defenses retreated into two-high safety looks to successfully chisel his splash play opportunities downfield, edge rushers sharpened their lane discipline to limit his threat as an out-of-structure killer (see Nick Bosa on Sunday night), and an error-ridden ensemble of receiving options has left him piloting his most underwhelming offense since entering the NFL. Yet, here he is again.
Before 'corn dog' came Reid's bold decision to dial up a tight end sneak pitch to Kelce underneath, where Mahomes' favourite target powered over to convert on second-and-seven in the red zone. Then came 'corn dog', Mahomes rolling right and fizzing to a wide-open Mecole Hardman to finish the job and crush Niners dreams, again.
Hardman zoned out in disbelief. Mahomes sprawled out on the turf of Allegiant Stadium in elation and exhaustion. Reid bundled on top of Chris Jones as his veteran defensive lineman lay flat out on his back. This one meant more than any before it.
"I don't think Pat knows how to lose," said Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice.
"We've got the best quarterback in the league," added Kelce.
Mahomes' Chiefs mark the NFL's first repeat champions since Tom Brady's New England Patriots won two straight across the 2003 and 2004 campaigns. Brady retired with seven championships to his name, including three in the space of four seasons with the Patriots; Mahomes has three, having visited four Super Bowls, having reached the AFC Championship Game in his six years as starter (an NFL first) and having now also won three Super Bowl MVP awards, all while still 28.
With Mahomes at the helm, the Chiefs are now just the sixth franchise in history to win three in five seasons.
This was his finest hour. His most unlikely hour. But was it even unlikely? The Chiefs dropped four of six games during a spell between November 20 and Christmas Day, on the latter of which a 20-14 defeat to the Las Vegas Raiders prompted a plummet in expectations surrounding a team that looked no match for the Baltimore Ravens, the 49ers and the rejuvenated Buffalo Bills.
They claimed an eighth straight division title to secure the No. 3 seed, but had ranked 15th in scoring offense, ninth overall, sixth in passing and 19th in rushing while Mahomes averaged a career-low in passing yards per game having recorded a career-high 14 interceptions throwing to a receiving core responsible for more dropped catches than any team in the league. They were nowhere close to the standard. Only, the league forgot that Mahomes WAS the standard.
"I think when you go against guys like Tom Brady and Pat Mahomes, you never feel comfortable with a lead," said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. "Those guys are two of the best players to ever play the game. And that's why when you have a lead or you're down points, those guys are always in it. I watch them all the time doing that stuff."
Steve Spagnuolo's defense had been the story, and continued to lead the way come the postseason as they shut down Tyreek Hill and Mike McDaniel's Miami Dolphins attack, before stifling Josh Allen and bottling up an MVP-bound Lamar Jackson. Defense was the driving force again at the Super Bowl, until it was time for Mahomes' moment.
"Unbelievable. He [Mahomes] hit it on the head: the adversity they faced all year long, especially towards the tail end of the season," said former NFL quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, speaking as part of the Sky Sports NFL team in Las Vegas.
"What a Super Bowl we got to sit here and witness. That was all about the greatness of Mahomes."
His 44-yard 'Jet Chip Wasp' throw to Hill was a moment at Super Bowl LIV to swing momentum against the Niners. His drive in the final 13 seconds to deny the Bills at the 2021 AFC Divisional Round game was a moment. His injury-stricken one-legged playoff campaign and eventual triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles at last season's Super Bowl was a moment, filled with moments. Sunday's moment was a 75-yard game-winning drive in overtime, entailing two fourth-and-one runs along with a third-and-six conversion and the icer to Hardman.
Alarm bells had been ringing all afternoon. San Francisco could not pull away, not having moved the ball so freely in the first half, not even when Mahomes threw an interception to start the second half. Upon overtime, they could only manage a Jake Moody field goal. From then on, it was legacy time. It was dynasty time.
"It's the start of one [a dynasty], we're not done," said Mahomes. "I know we're gonna celebrate tonight, celebrate at the parade Wednesday in Kansas City, but we're not done. We've got a young team, we're gonna keep this thing going."
How about a three-peat? Mahomes insisted he will "do whatever I can to be back in this game next year".
"I think Tom [Brady] said it best, once you win that championship and you have those parades and you get those rings, you're not the champ anymore."
While Mahomes and Kelce bolstered their cases among the greats, so too did Reid with a third ring of his own after a season in which his Chiefs offense has stumbled more than ever before. With the game on the line, it was Reid and his quarterback who pounced on Steve Wilks' decision to send pressure Mahomes' way.
"He's one of the best coaches of all time. I believe he's the best coach of all time," said Mahomes. "I know he doesn't have all the trophies yet and I have a lot of respect for those great coaches but the way he's able to navigate every single team he has, continue to have success no matter whoever he's at.
"And for me, he brings out the best in me because he lets me be me. That's important. He doesn't make me try to be anyone else, I don't think I am the quarterback that I am if I didn't have coach Reid being my head coach."
The proverbial 'they' bet against Mahomes, they bet against Kelce, they bet against Reid. 'They' never learn.
"Never a doubt in my mind," Kelce said. "We've got the best quarterback in the league, we've got the best offensive line in the league, and we've got the most determination out of any team in the NFL and you saw all that tonight.
"I guess at this point I take it for granted, but I know we're in every single game I've ever played in, no matter what the score is or no matter how much time is left, that guy's got magic in his right arm."
They embraced underdog status, even if they never believed it. They shouldered villainous treatment, if that's what 'they' wanted them to be. They clobbered convention and won with a rebuilding offense. Mahomes is Mahomes, and the Chiefs are the Chiefs.
Brady's seven had looked unassailable, unthinkable. Mahomes may still never get there. But nobody stands a better chance. Now we wait.
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