‘He wants to be the greatest of all time’: Mahomes caps off historical postseason in Miami
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – For the third time in as many games this postseason, the Chiefs appeared to be on the ropes. After a first half ended in a 10-10 gridlock that felt like two heavyweight boxers just feeling each other out, the 49ers came out of the tunnel and threw the first punch.
A nine-play, 60-yard drive ended in Robbie Gould’s second field goal of the night to give the 49ers a 13-10 lead. The Chiefs appeared poised to strike right back as they quickly marched 37 yards in five plays down to their own 46-yard line, but the 49ers’ menacing defensive front then began to tee off.
Nick Bosa, who on Saturday was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, shot through the line of scrimmage on 2nd-and-5 and sacked Patrick Mahomes to bring up 3rd-and-12. On the ensuing play, the 49ers brought pressure again, causing Mahomes to force one over the middle and lead to an easy interception for Fred Warner.
“I knew it right when I threw the ball it wasn’t going to be a good thing,” Mahomes said. “Hit him right between the 5 and the 4.”
The 49ers needed just six plays to capitalize on the turnover and extend their lead to 10. When Mahomes followed up by throwing his second interception in as many drives, on a slant route that was behind his intended receiver Tyreek Hill and batted up into the air into the arms of a diving Tarvarius Moore, the Chiefs appeared to be dead in the water.
“I just tried to force it,” Mahomes said.
The 65-70% of the Hard Rock Stadium crowd that were Chiefs fans, after being deafening for most of the game to that point, grew quiet and restless. By this point, the 49ers had a 96.1% chance to win, according to Edjsports.
Despite coming back from 24-0 down to the Texans in the divisional round and to the Titans 17-7 in the AFC Championship, Sunday night seemed like it would be an even more challenging defecit to overcome.
The 49ers had neutralized the Chiefs offense like nobody has in Mahomes first two years as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
A Kansas City offense that had scored 51 points in the divisional round and 35 in the AFC Championship had only 10 points more than halfway through the fourth quarter. Mahomes had thrown for just 168 yards, had tossed two interceptions for the first time in his career and had been forced to grind out methodical drives.
“He started feeling the pressure and he started throwing up ducks,” said defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who had 1.5 sacks. “We got two picks. He started feeling the pressure.”
But Mahomes encouraged his head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to stay aggressive. The explosive plays would eventually come.
He was right. Just when it seemed like Mahomes’ postseason magic would run out, the tables turned. The Chiefs were searching for that one explosive play all night to catalyze the offense, and on a 3rd-and-15, Mahomes backpedaled about six steps in the pocket to avoid the rush again and heaved one to a wide-open Hill for a gain of 44 yards down to the 49ers 21-yard line. One explosive play changed everything.
“He made a great catch,” said Jimmy Ward, the 49ers’ free safety. He just made a great play.”
It was a rare busted coverage by Ward, but Mahomes noted that Ward and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt were keeping everything in front of them all game, forcing him to throw short passes. On the big completion to Hill, tight end Travis Kelce ran a long crossing route that made Tartt go with him and forced Ward to cover Hill 1-on-1.
“We got good protection by the offensive line,” Mahomes said. “They gave me enough time, and I put it out there and Tyreek made a great play.”
Just three plays later, Mahomes found Kelce in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard score to cut the lead to 20-17.
After a 49ers three-and-out that took only one minute and three seconds off the clock, Mahomes needed only six plays to march down the field before another touchdown throw, this time to running back Damien Williams, who stretched the ball across the goal line just before he stepped out of bounds.
All those Chiefs fans erupted louder than they had all night. Hard Rock Stadium had essentially become Arrowhead South.
The Chiefs were back in front 24-20 with just under three minutes left and would not look back. It was an incredible 21-point barrage, the most points ever scored in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl, all in less than seven minutes.
What was a great defensive performance for the first 53 minutes of regulation vanished that quickly. Mahomes showed again though that it was only a matter of time before the Chiefs offense would explode.
The 49ers had sacked him four times, added eight quarterback hits and made him uncomfortable all game. His final stat line, 26-of-42 for 286 yards and a 78.1 passer rating, was well below his standards, but the way Mahomes once again responded to the adversity was legendary.
Even with the interception, the Super Bowl MVP in the fourth quarter completed 10 of 17 passes for 141 yards with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 100.3.
“Once we put it within three points, at that point, everyone kind of knew. We get this ball back, we’re going to go down and score and win it. That’s just how Pat is,” Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka said. “He’s always giving you confidence, he always stays calm through the highs and the lows. We never felt like there’s been a game where we’re out of it when that kid’s under center.”
Indeed, the Chiefs are never out of a game with Mahomes under center even on the biggest stage of his young career against arguably the best defense he has faced yet. Mahomes improved to 5-0 when trailing by double-digits this season, including 3-0 in the playoffs. No starting quarterback had ever led three double-digit comebacks in a single postseason.
He also joined Tom Brady as the only quarterback in Super Bowl history to lead a team back from 10-plus points down in the second half to win.
“There’s several guys that could be the face of the NFL,” Mahomes said. “With the NFL and how good the quarterback play is, guys can come in year in and year out and go out there and play great football.”
He may be right, but what Mahomes has done through the first 36 games of his NFL career is unlike anything we have ever seen.
He’s thrown for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a single season. He’s won the league MVP. He’s already hosted two AFC championship games. He’s quarterbacked a top-five scoring offense in NFL history. He’s orchestrated the fourth largest playoff comeback ever...in one quarter. And now he’s won a Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP after leading the second largest comeback in Super Bowl history.
No quarterback has ever put together that impressive of a resume through their first 36 games. We are watching a guy who is already on his way to being an all-time great.
“He just wants to be the greatest. That’s his mindset,” said Chad Henne, Mahomes’ backup for the past two seasons. “He wants to be the greatest of all time. Obviously, he has a great head start.”
Obviously, Mahomes still has a lot of football to play before he enters the all-time great conversation, and you never know when he'll make it back to the Super Bowl.
Even some of the guys currently in that conversation have struggled to consistently reach the Super Bowl. Dan Marino never won one. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers both won one early in their careers but haven’t returned since. After winning Super Bowl 41, Peyton Manning needed nine years to finally collect his second Lombardi Trophy.
Mahomes just looks different though, not just because he has some of the greatest arm talent and field vision that the sport has ever seen, but the resilience he put on display all postseason was something that’s never been done before. He proved that no deficit is too daunting for him to overcome.
"Just his resolve," Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “Something we've seen from him his whole career. He's one of the most competitive guys I know, and he's going to make sure he's prepared for whatever happens. It's hard to come up with things to say about Pat, because you all know how frickin' special he is."
When Mahomes first arrived in Kansas City after being selected with the No. 10 overall pick in 2017, his two goals were to win the Chiefs an AFC Championship and earn Reid his first Super Bowl. He accomplished both of those in just 36 games.
Reid deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, regardless of whether or not he ever won a Super Bowl. He had taken two different franchises from rock bottom and turned them both into perennial contenders.
However, he never had a transcendent quarterback talent like Mahomes until last year. Mahomes was the last piece Reid needed to finally get him over the hump. Mahomes’ brilliance doesn’t diminish what a great story it is that Reid finally won his first Super Bowl and cemented his Hall of Fame legacy after 21 seasons as an NFL head coach.
But Sunday night was about the 24-year old in red wearing No. 15. Just when his team appeared to be finished after 53 minutes, somehow, he led a 21-point onslaught in the final seven minutes of Super Bowl 54 with the pressure never higher. Mahomes is one of the few guys in the history of this league capable of that.
Will Desautelle is a senior majoring in journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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