MIAMI -- Of course it was a comeback. That's the only thing the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs knew in these playoffs, an impressive run by an offense that produced a flurry of points in each matchup, highlighted by three touchdowns in less than six minutes to deliver Andy Reid his first career Super Bowl victory, a thrilling 31-20 victory over the 49ers.
It was the third straight comeback for the Chiefs, who trailed 24-0 to the Texans in the divisional round and 17-7 to the Titans in the AFC Championship Game. The 49ers felt like a different beast, because of their pass rush and run game. And for 50-some minutes it looked like that theory was correct.
"We have heart. From day one, Coach pushes us to be the best people we can be, and we never give up," Mahomes said after the game. "I think those guys around this -- the leaders that we have on this team -- they have that mindset that we never give up and we're going to fight until the end."
The Chiefs used an epic fourth-quarter comeback to win their first Super Bowl title in 50 years, and there's a lot to go over. Will Brinson and the Pick Six Podcast Superfriends break down everything about Chiefs-49ers in Super Bowl LIV; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.
Down 10 with less than nine minutes to go, the Chiefs' chances of winning the Super Bowl were withering away. A 3rd-and-15 from their own 35-yard-line loomed large and the 49ers pass rush was picking up steam, getting pressure on Mahomes at every turn. A whole bunch of since-deleted "defense wins championships" stories were cooking up in the Hard Rock Stadium press box. Wince-worthy opinions about Mahomes' ability to win on the biggest stage were no doubt percolating in the minds of hot take cannons around the country.
Mahomes was pressured by the 49ers again, forced to backpedal and run away from the onslaught of pass rushers bursting through the line. Mahomes chucked up a balloon in the direction of a wide open Tyreek Hill -- a better pass is a touchdown -- on a play where Hill went flying into open space and Mahomes found him for a 44-yard conversion. Four plays later, courtesy of a blatant pass interference call against the Niners' Tarvarius Moore as he tried to cover Travis Kelce, Mahomes found his tight end for a wide open one-yard touchdown.
It was a turning point for the game, the season and even maybe a couple of careers.
The Chiefs had gotten scared about the situation and turned up the tempo, helping to unleash the full power of Mahomes via Andy Reid's play-calling. The result was three touchdown drives, going for 65, 83 and 42 yards respectively, to help wash away the 49ers' lead and secure the Lombardi for the Chiefs. The Niners' defense couldn't adjust to it in time and it gave Mahomes time to throw and room to work.
You can't deny it: before that stretch, Mahomes was flat-out bad. But he was a different quarterback late, going 10-of-17 for 141 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the fourth quarter.
Let's make sure and give the defense credit too. Jimmy Garoppolo struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth quarter for 36 yards and a pick. Up to that point, Jimmy G had outplayed the 2018 MVP. The Chiefs were criticized leading up to this game for their inability to slow down opponents. It was unnecessary and unfair: K.C. had an elite-level defense down the stretch of the season. They showed it in the fourth quarter.
"That defense played their tails off," Kelce said. "And we needed stops, they won us the game."
He's not wrong: the 49ers totaled 59 yards in the fourth quarter and saw their possessions end quickly. They went punt, punt, turnover on downs, interception in the quarter and the longest drive was 3 minutes and 4 seconds. It was not a remarkable offensive output. Again, the Chiefs were awesome. They pressured Jimmy G on every snap, tipped a couple of passes and sacked him on a fourth-and-10 attempt.
As soon as their first three-and-out came, it felt like a near certainty that Mahomes would find a way to get another score and either tie the game or give the Chiefs the lead. He obviously did and the onus fell on Garoppolo to try and rally. The Chiefs made sure he couldn't, as Tyrann Mathieu and Co. cranked up the intensity and snuffed out the 49ers' hopes.
"We prepared the right way. We had to just believe in each other," Mathieu said. "I felt like in that last quarter we knew it was getting tight, and defensively, in order to win this game, we knew we were going to have to step up and make some plays."
Kyle Shanahan will once again certainly have to answer questions and look in the mirror when it comes to some decision making, particularly when it comes to his decision not to be aggressive at the end of the second quarter, sitting on his timeouts and not really playing for points. The 49ers had an offensive pass interference call go against them that would have led to at least a field goal attempt and as a result never got a shot for any points. Shanahan also opted to kick a field goal on a short fourth down. When the Chiefs completed the comeback, the four-point difference in the scores stuck out like a sore thumb.
But the story here is Mahomes' ability to manage a complex offense at an incredibly high level and the myriad weapons at his disposal. Just like the last two playoff games, Mahomes and the high-powered offense took charge and in the blink of an eye, the Chiefs stormed back and took control of the game. Don't call it a comeback. The Chiefs were always here.