By Sean Tyler (@seantyleruk)
In his 21 seasons as Head Coach, Andy Reid had won everything except the thing that mattered most: the Super Bowl. Having missed out 15 years ago with the Philadelphia Eagles, Reid finally broke the hoodoo on Sunday evening (or Monday morning here in the UK), overseeing a 31-20 victory for the Kansas City Chiefs over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
Ahead of Sunday’s triumph in South Florida, Reid’s impressive list of accomplishments – 207 regular season and 14 postseason wins, 10 divisions titles and seven conference championship games – still had a hollow ring to it. But that’s all changed with career victory #222 and Super Bowl victory #1.
After the game, when asked if it was worth the wait, even that superb walrus moustache couldn’t hide his broad grin. “Absolutely,” came Reid’s reply. “Absolutely.” And for all the talent and potential in the 49ers’ camp, who could begrudge ‘Big Red’ his moment of glory?
Did the game stick to the script?
With no clear pre-game favourite, this one was a tough one to call beforehand. As it happened, the momentum ebbed and flowed, and the result hung in the balance till the end.
In many ways, Super Bowl LIV in Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium was exactly as billed. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was named the game’s MVP, Niners kicker Robbie Gould maintained his faultless postseason record with two field goals and two PATs, and Kansas trailed in the final quarter before yet another comeback.
And then again, Mahomes struggled for much of the night, both tight ends had understated outings and the Niners’ running game wasn’t quite the well-oiled machine we’ve seen of late. Granted, Kyle Shanahan’s attack used play-action and misdirection to keep the KC defence guessing, but Raheem Mostert (58 yards) and Tevin Coleman (28 yards) largely flattered to deceive.
Did Mahomes deserve the MVP crown?
Yes. And no.
San Francisco’s best bet was always to keep Mahomes off the field by dominating possession with their running game, then keep him under wraps as best they could. And for much of the game, Robert Saleh’s defensive game plan worked.
And yet, despite starting slowly again, Mahomes still rushed for the opening TD and threw for three more. With ‘The Mahomes Factor’, the Chiefs can win from anywhere, at any time. He began with a three-and-out, was pressured all night and when flushed out of the pocket, he was forced to scramble or attempt a risky pass. Hence, he didn’t deliver the all-out air raid some pundits predicted.
His stats – 26-of-42 for 286 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs (for the first time this season) – don’t scream MVP but it’s more about context than box score. Sure, he was far from perfect, following up sacks with interceptions to Fred Warner and Bashaud Breeland on consecutive second-half possessions, but when it mattered most, he rose to the occasion.
On the other side, Garoppolo (20-of-31 for 219 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) found some rhythm with Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne, connected with Kyle Juszczyk for a 15-yard TD and set up Raheem Mostert’s 1-yard rushing score. But he also gifted Bashaud Breeland an interception with an unnecessary and desperate throw in the first quarter. And that was really how it went – he didn’t play poorly but equally, it never felt like it was going to be the Jimmy G show.
Hats should also be tipped in the direction of SF’s Deebo Samuel for the most rushing yards for a receiver in a Super Bowl (53 yards on just three carries), and the Chiefs’ Damien Williams (17 carries, 104 yards, 2 TDs), the only 100-yard rusher on the day. The guy had his struggles when playing for the Dolphins on the very same field but he seems to have left them well behind him.
But despite these fine efforts, and those of trench warriors such as Chris Jones and Mitchell Schwartz (check out our Super Bowl podcast for more on them), the MVP was probably Mahomes, if only for what he masterminded in the final quarter. Which brings me to…
The turning point
At the end of the third, after Mahomes was sacked and then intercepted, the Niners were up by 10 and looking good for their sixth Super Bowl title. The Lombardi Trophy was heading back to California, right?
Wrong. Having seen the Texans and Titans games, we know better than to rule the Chiefs out, especially when the odds are stacked against them. They were at least 10 points behind in both those postseason match-ups and eventually won by at least as many. It’s like they need to be down by double figures before they realise the seriousness of the situation.
And in Miami, lightning struck yet again. Mahomes turned the game on its head by finally morphing into the gunslinger. Facing a third-and-15 from his own 35, he had the nerve to drop back nine steps before connecting on a 44-yard bomb to the turbo-charged Tyreek Hill (9 catches, 105 yards). Four plays later, Mahomes hit Kelce for a 1-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to 20-17.
The 49ers were limited to a three-and-out, so back came Mahomes, notching a 38-yard pass to wideout Sammy Watkins (5 catches, 98 yards), before finding running back Damien Williams for the go-ahead score. Despite being sacked again, Mahomes recovered to release Williams down the sideline from 38 yards to ice it with a killer two-play TD drive. In response to the 49ers’ 17 unanswered points, the Chiefs notched up 21 of their own in the final six-and-a-bit minutes.
Garappolo still had time to muster a comeback attempt of his own with 1:40 left to play, but when called upon, he overcooked a pass to an open Emmanuel Sanders on a third-and-10 that coulda – shoulda – been the go-ahead score. The moment was gone.
Cue Reid being drenched with a barrel of Gatorade.
How the (mind) game was won
The 49ers were arguably the more complete team but they couldn’t compete with the never-say-die attitude of Mahomes and the courage of HC Andy Reid, who twice rolled the dice on crucial 4th-and-1 attempts. Damien Williams converted both, the first of which set up a 1-yard scoring run by his QB. On the flip side, Shanahan settled for two field goals that gave the 49ers a 10-point advantage, rather than the 14 or 18 it could have been.
The HC’s play-calling was also pivotal, especially when he veered away from what works for the Niners: the run game. In the fourth, for example, Mostert found a lane but got hauled down on a first down. Two throws then fell incomplete, which stopped the clock and handed the ball back to the Chiefs with plenty of time for the go-ahead touchdown.
Under Steve Spagnuolo’s guidance, Kansas’ defence also held up when it mattered, with Chris Jones batting down a couple of passes, Daniel Sorensen clobbering Garoppolo with a massive hit, Frank Clark grabbing a sack and Kendall Fuller snatching the game-ending interception.
When the dust settles…
Kyle Shanahan was minutes away from taking the 49ers from 4-10 last year to winning this season’s finale. The loss is going to hurt for a while yet, especially as it’s the second time in four seasons he’s been on the wrong end of an heartbreaking collapse. (His final game as the OC for the Atlanta Falcons saw them blow a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI and lost to the Patriots in OT.) But the Niners have plenty of reason for optimism heading into 2020 and beyond. They’ll lick their wounds and rise again, especially considering that Jimmy G’s only started 29 games. As George Kittle eloquently told the press: “The Legendary Revenge Tour of 2020. It’s coming.”
As for KC, Mahomes (eventually) earned his corn to become the second-youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He’s now racked up 30+ points in all five of his postseason appearances and should never be written off until the game clock hits zero. He is resilience personified. He isn’t fazed when things go wrong; he just presses the reset button and goes again. Undoubtedly the current face and the future hope of the franchise, I doubt that’s the last time we’ll see him strutting his stuff on the NFL’s biggest stage.
Bottom line: it was all about Andy
The Chiefs couldn’t have won their first NFL title in 50 years without their inspirational quarterback but to come full circle, this win was all about Andy Reid. A Super Bowl title was the only thing missing from his CV and that’s now been rectified.
As the after-game soundbites from his players suggest, they couldn’t be happier for their Head Coach. And I’m dead chuffed for the fella too.