The Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 in Super Bowl LIV. Patrick Mahomes threw for two touchdowns and ran in another on football's biggest stage. Mahomes becomes the youngest player to ever win a league MVP and the Super Bowl in a career.
With more than a minute left in the first half, Kyle Shanahan chose not to use a timeout. The 49ers defence had just stopped Patrick Mahomes. They had done so repeatedly during the first half. Jimmy Garoppolo got the ball back with 59 seconds and all three timeouts to use. Shanahan chose to run the clock out before throwing on third down.
It was a cowardly approach, reminiscent of what the Jaguars did with Blake Bortles in the AFC Championship Game two years ago.
It was also the right approach. Garoppolo had thrown one interception by that point. He's not someone whose likely to drive the length of the field when the defence doesn't have to respect the running game. Ironically, Garoppolo converted the third down on that drive with a pass before then connecting with George Kittle on a perfectly thrown deep ball. That play was negated by a penalty and the 49ers didn't have any time to get into scoring range.
Shanahan went into his bag of tricks early. He called misdirection plays, RPOs, screens, end-arounds and even tried to throw the ball to Garoppolo on a wheel route. The defence covered it so well that Deebo Samuel scrambled for the first down instead. Both Shanahan and Andy Reid called great games on offence despite the relatively low scoring output. Reid had added wrinkles to all of his play designs. They repeatedly moved the ball downfield by showing the 49ers something they'd never seen before. In the first half, the Chiefs converted multiple fourth downs with different speed option looks.
Mahomes' rushing touchdown in the first half came on a speed option keeper. He wasn't tearing the defence apart the way he had in prior games. The 49ers defence frustrated him with their gameplan and physically battered him with their execution.
Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead were particularly impressive. Both won their matchups repeatedly and forced their way into the pocket. They created hesitation in Mahomes' mental processing and his mechanics became notably looser as the game wore on. During the first half, Mahomes absorbed at least three notable big hits. A Third-and-11 scramble saw Jimmie Ward rock him in a violent collision. Bosa forced a fumble in the third quarter when he poked the ball out, but just as significant was the monstrous hit he put on Mahomes on a speed option play in the second quarter. Sammy Watkins' 28-yard reception in the first half was the Chiefs' only big play of the game before the fourth quarter. Even on that play, Mahomes was hit hard as the ball came out.
The Chiefs couldn't throw deep because of how the 49ers set up. 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh employed the same gameplan that Bill Belichick always used against Peyton Manning. He kept safeties deep, encouraging the 49ers to run the ball and throw short. The 49ers bet on Mahomes getting frustrated and trusted their talented pass rushers to wear him down. It worked.
But there's only so much you can do against this quarterback.
Mahomes repeatedly missed wide-open throws in the third quarter. He and Tyreek Hill weren't on the same page at the start of the fourth quarter for his second interception. At that point, the game looked like it was over. The Chiefs defence stopped the 49ers offence to keep the dying embers of the game from completely disappearing. Mahomes took that spark and went supernova. On Third-and-15, he connected for 44 yards with Tyreek Hill. Emmanuel Mosley blew his assignment to give up the opportunity. That led to a short touchdown to Travis Kelce off play action.
Garoppolo missed a third down throw early in the ensuing drive. Suddenly, the Chiefs were in position to take a lead. From a Second-and-7 near midfield, Mahomes went to Watkins for 37 yards. It was a beautiful throw down the right sideline after Mahomes held the deep safety with his eyes.
That play came against Richard Sherman. Sherman was barely seen on the broadcast. Part of the reason the 49ers had to be so conservative with their gameplan on defence was Sherman's inability to run with these receivers. Even during his peak years, Sherman always struggled most with smaller receivers who could sprint. TY Hilton was a notable one. Now closer to the end of his career with a blown Achilles in his recent history, Sherman simply can't run with the likes of Hill, Watkins and Mecole Hardman.
Mahomes wasn't great in this game. This performance won't rank amongst the 50 best of his career whenever he retires. But his quality was the difference on the day. His toughness and poise to make plays work in the first half and his precision to lead two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter were everything that Jimmy Garoppolo was lacking.