Many have described Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV, which ended with a Kansas City Chiefs victory, a “scheme show” where usage of a particular player, or group of players, was more important for the outcome of the game than anything else. That could have been expected by two teams in which coaching plays so big of a role.
However, as in any other Super Bowl, this year’s edition of the Big Game had its fair share of specific moments that mattered more than the others. Huge games are most often decided by big plays, as the cliché goes, and the Chiefs had plenty of them en route to their first Super Bowl win in 50 seasons.
Patrick Mahomes won Super Bowl MVP, despite struggling through the first three quarters, in which he was responsible for 2 interceptions. His fourth-quarter heroics were another piece of evidence for the opportunistic character of the game. The same goes for the Chiefs defence.
Here are the four plays which helped Kansas City to make the push towards lifting the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday Night in Miami.
4th Q, 9:40 remaining, 3rd & 14 SF at SF 37
Outcome: 4-yard rush by Jimmy Garoppolo, short of the first down
A 3rd-down completion here would have given the Niners a huge advantage in terms of clock management and might have even prevented what eventually was 21 straight points by KC. The Chiefs bring in a four-man rush and do a great job against virtually seven blockers. By the time Garoppolo sees receivers which are ready to make a reception, he’s already chased by not one but two Chiefs D-linemen in Frank Clark (#55) and Terrell Suggs (#94). The best Jimmy G got out of this is a 4-yard gain in his own half with Kyle Shanahan forced to bring in the punting unit.
The Chiefs sacked Garoppolo just once on nine dropbacks but brought a significant amount of pressure. That affected Garoppolo, who is considered one of the worst quarterbacks under pressure in the NFL.
4th Q, 7:13, KC 3rd & 15 at KC 35
Outcome: Mahomes 44-yard pass to Tyreek Hill, 1st DOWN at SF 21
There was a lot on the line on this play, although the Chiefs would have probably gone for it on 4th down. But the reason why most of these plays were so important, aside from some that contributed to eventual touchdown-scoring drives, is that if San Francisco had even one more possession than they had in the fourth quarter before the Chiefs took the lead, they would have run a significant chunk of the clock down.
Before the pass, it looked like Nick Bosa was arguably held by right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, even though the play looks closer when you review it in slow motion. Not only did the throw to the wide-open Hill put the Chiefs just outside the red zone, setting a Travis Kelce TD catch, but it also sparked the miracle that Mahomes, who had only 181 yards through the air prior to the third-down play, put on late in the game.
Mahomes had to throw the football while being hit but that isn’t something new. The Texas Tech product is among the best passers under pressure and is one of the fastest throwers in football. Meanwhile, a missed coverage by cornerback Jimmie Ward seems like the bigger shocker here, especially for a secondary which had played a perfect game through three and a half quarters, picking off Mahomes twice.
4th Q, 2:44, 3rd & GOAL KC at SF 5
Outcome: Patrick Mahomes 5-yard pass to Damien Williams for a TOUCHDOWN
The formation included two backs and three receivers, with TE Travis Kelce the lone man in right. He goes up against Richard Sherman in the receiver-cornerback matchup. Patrick Mahomes ends up throwing to Williams, who comes out of the left side of the backfield and shifts to the right. Sherman, knowing that Williams and Hill, both used very dynamically in the short passing game, had been in the backfield, reads the play fairly quickly and nearly stops Damien Williams before he reaches for the end zone.
Replay clearly shows how the ball is an inch over the goal line and, after a review, the initial TD call was confirmed. If Mahomes doesn’t throw it quickly enough under pressure, or if Sherman and Ward read it a slight moment earlier, the Chiefs face a difficult 4th-down decision down 20-17, and, in worst-case scenario, they could have come up with no points, which effectively puts an end to the game provided that the Niners get a couple of first downs.
4th Q, 1:31, 4th & 10 SF at KC 49
Outcome: Jimmy Garoppolo sacked by Frank Clark for a loss of 9 yards
At his own 35-yard line, Garoppolo completed a 16-yard reception to Kendrick Bourne which put the football in KC territory. It looked like the Niners were in business. That wasn’t the case.
What followed was an ugly sequence for the 49ers and their playmaker. Garoppolo threw 3 incompletions in a row and it all went down to a fourth down. That where the KC pass rush stepped up with a sack that was then followed by a Damien Williams run on the next drive to make it a two-possession, 11-point game.
What was the only sack of the game for the Chiefs capped off an impressive display for the front seven. Jimmy G was alright for the first three quarters of the game – nothing more, nothing less – but his most notable problems came when under pressure.