MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The table was set for Patrick Mahomes’ crowning moment.
Having already established himself as arguably the most dynamic player ever to hit the NFL, the next step in the young career of the 24-year-old quarterback was to bring his magic act to the Super Bowl – and win it in spectacular fashion.
Mahomes delivered Sunday night with a performance that made him the game's Most Valuable Player in the Chiefs’ 31-20 victory against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium.
All of those spectacular runs, all of those dizzying throws, all of that magic he has shown since taking over as the Chiefs’ No. 1 quarterback in 2018 reached stratospheric levels after he led them back from a 10-point deficit with a 21-point fourth quarter on three consecutive touchdown drives.
It might not have been perfect, but then again, the Chiefs' entire postseason has been defined by imperfection. And comebacks. Lots of comebacks.
Mahomes ran for a touchdown and threw for two others on the way to completing 26 of 42 passes for 286 yards. He was intercepted twice, but the turnovers couldn't erase an effort that helped the Chiefs win the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in 50 years and give Andy Reid his first Super Bowl victory in 21 seasons as a head coach.
“It’s Magic Mahomes, it’s Showtime Mahomes,” said tight end Travis Kelce, who caught six passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. “He willed this team back into the game.”
“It’s this team,” Mahomes said. “We have heart. Just from Day One, Coach pushes us to be the best people that we can be and we never give up. And I think those guys around us, 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.”
When the Chiefs found themselves trailing, 20-10, entering the fourth quarter, it was Mahomes who gave what he believed was a desperately needed pep talk on the sidelines.
“He (saw) it in some guys’ eyes, they were getting down, including myself,” said receiver Tyreek Hill, who finished with a game-high nine receptions for 105 yards. “I was like, ‘Man, how are we going to pull this off?’ And he was like, ‘10, you’ve got to believe, brother. Like the same faith you’ve had all of your career, you’ve got to believe right now. It’s going to happen, man. I can feel it.’ ”
As soon as the Niners got the ball for the first time, they seemed to have the Chiefs' defense befuddled. One play after Jimmy Garoppolo, the afterthought QB in the game, hit tight end George Kittle for an 11-yard gain, receiver Deebo Samuel – who set a Super Bowl record for rushing yards by a receiver – took a jet sweep 32 yards to the Chiefs' 40.
But the 49ers couldn't get closer than the 20, and had to settle for the field goal.
The Chiefs' offense got in gear on the next series. Mahomes, who had struggled to find open receivers and was incomplete on back-to-back screen passes on the opening possession, sparked the offense with sharp short and intermediate throws.
On third-and-11 from the Niners' 15, he ran for 12 yards, which would have been enough for a first down, but he fumbled backward and out of bounds to set up a fourth-and-1 at the 5. Running back Damien Williams took a direct snap to the 1 for a first down. Two plays later, Mahomes ran for a touchdown to give the Chiefs a 7-3 lead.
Kansas City's defense began making its presence felt as well, when tackle Mike Pennel hit Garoppolo, causing him to heave a floater that Bashaud Breeland easily intercepted. That put the Chiefs at their own 44. On the next play, Mahomes hung a high pass that former Buffalo Bills receiver Sammy Watkins jumped to catch at the San Francisco 28.
The Chiefs were able to get as far as the 49ers' 13 before the drive stalled and they were forced to settle for a field goal.
The 49ers are too strong a team for any opponent, even one with Kansas City's offensive firepower, to expect to beat with field goals. They proved as much on the next series.
A 9-yard run by Raheem Mostert, followed by a 16-yard Garoppolo-to-Samuel pass, an 11-yard Mostert run, a 17-yard Tevin Coleman carry and a 15-yard Garoppolo pass to Samuel pushed the Niners to the Chiefs' 15. From there, Garoppolo found fullback Kyle Juszczyk for a touchdown to tie the game at 10-10, which was how it would stand for the rest of the half. It marked only the fourth time the Super Bowl has been tied at halftime.
With the Niners in front, 13-10, early in the third quarter, they made a play that seemed to firmly tilt the game in the 49ers' direction. On third-and-12 from the Chiefs' 39, Mahomes dropped back and fired toward Hill, but linebacker Fred Warner stepped in front of the ball for an interception at the San Francisco 42.
From there, Garoppolo hit Samuel for a 16-yard gain and three plays later, found receiver Kendrick Bourne for 26 yards to the Kansas City 11. On the next play, Garoppolo connected with Juszczyk for 10 yards to the 1, setting up Mostert for a scoring run to give the 49ers a 20-10 lead with 2:35 remaining in the third quarter.
If the Chiefs – and especially Mahomes – have demonstrated one overarching quality during the postseason, it is that they know how to fight their way back. They did it against the Houston Texans, who held a 24-0 lead against them in the second quarter of the divisional round. They did it against the Tennessee Titans, who had a 10-0 first-quarter advantage against them in the AFC title game.
"I just went out there and kept competing," Mahomes said of his mindset in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. "I knew we weren't in the ideal situation. I believed in my defense to get stops, and they did. And the guys kept believing in me and started making plays downfield and we found a way to win."
After Mahomes' second interception, to defensive back Tarvarius Moore, the Chiefs forced the 49ers to punt. Mahomes then got back in his groove, putting up a towering throw that Hill caught for a 44-yard gain to the Niners' 21.
A pass interference penalty on Moore, while covering Kelce in the end zone, put KC at the 1. On the next play, Mahomes connected with Kelce in the end zone to pull the Chiefs to within three, 20-17, with 6:13 left.
Kansas City's defense stood tall again, forcing another 49ers punt with 5:18 remaining. Mahomes proceeded to do his thing, moving in the pocket and completing short throws to move the chains.
Then, on second-and-7 from the San Francisco 48, Mahomes fired to Watkins along the sideline for 38 yards to the Niners' 10. Mahomes then ran for six yards and one play after being sacked for a 1-yard loss, he connected with Damien Williams for a 5-yard touchdown to make it 24-20.
Williams also ran for a 38-yard score with 1:12 to go.
“(The 49ers) have an amazing defense, one of the best defenses that I’ve gone up against in my career so far,” Mahomes said. “We weren’t executing at a high enough level. When you go against a defense like that, you’re not going to have success. I’m just glad our guys kept fighting and we found a way to get it in the end.”