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Chiefs rally once again to defeat 49ers, win SB LIV

*MAIMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Down 10 points in the final quarter of their season, the Kansas City Chiefs saved their greatest comeback for the biggest stage. Patrick Mahomes, magnificent and magical in the final stanza, led an unbelievable rally that concluded with the Chiefs defeating the 49ers, 31-20, in Super Bowl LIV in Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday night. *

With a season on the line and his team down, 20-10, in the last quarter, Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce for a score and then running back Damien Williams for the game-winner. Williams broke loose to seal the win with a 38-yard run down the sideline. With the Chiefs' high-octane offense quelled by the Niners' stupendous defense for most of the night, Kansas City pulled off its third straight comeback victory to give coach Andy Reid his first Super Bowl win and the franchise its first in 50 years.

Here's what we learned from the Chiefs' memorable Super Bowl triumph over the 49ers.

  1. The Chiefs were in the game early in the second half because Andy Reid coached the first half aggressively. The Chiefs were also in the game because Kyle Shanahan coached conservatively. Settling for two field goals left us at just a three-point difference midway through the third, but an aggressive decision is what swayed it in San Francisco's favor. Patrick Mahomes' mystifying decision to throw the ball directly to Fred Warner (who was in front of Tyreek Hill) seemed more like a quarterback trusting his arm too much to squeeze a ball into a nonexistent window 20 yards downfield, and it swung the game in the favor of the 49ers -- at least temporarily.

These Chiefs made it official, though: They need a double-digit deficit to live. Kansas City's faithful was despondent inside Hard Rock Stadium in the fourth quarter, but Mahomes, who was crowned Super Bowl MVP, awoke and led the Chiefs on two quick-strike drives, powered by deep shots to Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. Before long, Kansas City went from staring a Super Bowl loss in the face to clinging to a newfound four-point lead. All of that is thanks to Mahomes' ability to overcome adversity, unflappable in a time of desperation.

  1. The moment might have been a little too big for Jimmy Garoppolo, at least early. The quarterback twice forced passes when sensing pressure (real or otherwise), sending a third-down pass wide of George Kittle and a throwaway attempt fluttering down in bounds with enough room for Bashaud Breeland to easily intercept it.

The Chiefs came into Sunday wanting to force Garoppolo to beat them. He couldn't come close to doing it early. All game, he struggled to see the whole field, throwing just one pass significantly outside the right hash through three quarters, which was delivered as he was hit and ended up in the hands of Chiefs defensive back Breeland. When it came time for a comeback attempt, Garoppolo didn't have enough. It was appropriate that his final realistic chance to lead a comeback ended with an overthrown pass to an open Emmanuel Sanders and was followed by a sack, as the quarterback wilted under pressure and watched what momentarily seemed to be a sure victory slip through his grasp.

  1. Shanahan will be questioned relentlessly for days and weeks to come for his play-calling on San Francisco's final possession during which it held a lead. The Niners ran the ball on first down and might have picked up a big gain had Raheem Mostert not been cut down in an open running lane. Then, perhaps with Super Bowl LI on his mind, he elected to throw on second and third down, resulting in incompletions and a stoppage of clock. The Chiefs got the ball back with plenty of time to work and took advantage of it, scoring the go-ahead touchdown.

For much of the game, Shanahan's rushing attack worked as expected. The Niners attacked the perimeter and built off it in play-action, but when it came time to bleed clock, Shanahan again went away from the run as he had for a brief period in the first half. That ultimately doomed him, and if he thought those nightmares from his Super Bowl loss with Atlanta were bad, these can be expected to be much worse.

  1. Damien Williams powered Kansas City's offense in unexpected fashion, as he caught the go-ahead score on an excellently designed play and iced it with a long touchdown run, but Mahomes deserves a massive amount of credit. The quarterback was constantly pressured and understandably off for much of the night, but when things turned dire, Mahomes rose to the occasion. His final line -- 26-of-42 passing, 286 yards, three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and two interceptions -- isn't normally worthy of a Super Bowl MVP, but let's face it: These Chiefs are not champions for the first time since Super Bowl IV without Mahomes at the controls. His final quarter comeback was better than his 2018 MVP because, well, it won him a title. Perhaps this is the start of a new era in atop the NFL, with Mahomes as the face of it.
  1. Fortunately (at the time) for San Francisco, there was enough time left in the game for Shanahan to look in the mirror and realize he might be trying a bit too hard. The coach went away from putting too much on Garoppolo's arm and back to his offense's bread and butter, running stretches, reverses, misdirections and play-action boots off of them, making San Francisco's offense incredibly difficult to predict. When it looked like a run, it could be a run, or it could've been a pass. Everything was working for a significant stretch of time.

Even then, though, there were visible cracks. Shanahan all but deferred to the second half, electing to not use a timeout to stop the clock ahead of a Chiefs punt inside two minutes. A deep strike to Kittle was negated by a questionable offensive pass interference penalty, and Shanahan was resigned to just kneel out the clock instead of potentially getting three or seven points before the half.

It seemed irrelevant in the early part of the fourth quarter, as the 49ers managed to run out to a 10-point lead, buoyed significantly by San Francisco's two interceptions. But as we all know, points left on the field always matter in the end. Instead of holding a 13-point or 17-point lead in the fourth, the Niners owned a 10-point advantage, not nearly enough to put away these Chiefs. Shanahan's clock management decisions late in the fourth only further compounded this missed opportunity.

  1. Despite the eventual loss, Robert Saleh deserved a raise for the game plan he devised for the Super Bowl until the final half of the fourth quarter. Saleh implemented rolling zone coverage disguised as man in key situations, forcing Mahomes to wait an extra beat and hindering Kansas City's attempts to move the chains on third down. Thanks to Nick Bosa's effectiveness in one-on-one rushes against Eric Fisher, San Francisco enjoyed increasingly frequent pressure off the edge, and when Saleh combined it with a slot corner blitz (sending K'Waun Williams) off the same side as Bosa, the 49ers got one-on-one situations again, even when the Chiefs planned to give some help to Fisher. Sometimes, Mahomes got the ball out quickly, as evidenced by his average of 5.2 air yards per attempt (second-shortest average in a game this season, per Next Gen Stats) up to the point at which Mahomes threw his first interception. But other times, the rush flushed Mahomes out of the pocket, where he was forced to either scramble or attempt a risky pass. One landed in the hands of Warner for a pivotal takeaway for San Francisco.

All of that was for naught in the final part of the fourth quarter, as the Chiefs shifted into an up-tempo attack and moved with desperate efficiency. Mahomes got the Chiefs back in the game with deep shots for which Saleh had no answer. For a second time in as many tries, Shanahan could only watch his fourth-quarter lead evaporate in the final minutes.

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