LAS VEGAS — When will we ever learn?
When will stop underestimating Patrick Mahomes?
The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback never thinks he’s out of a football game and his teammates fall right into lockstep behind him in that mindset. They overcame a 10-point deficit Sunday in Super Bowl LVIII, forced overtime and eventually cashed in, hitting the jackpot late with three seconds remaining as he connected with Mecole Hardman for a 3-yard touchdown and a 25-22 win over the San Francisco 49ers at Allegiant Stadium.
The game, only the second OT game in Super Bowl history and the first to be hosted by Las Vegas which attracted 61,629, went from snoozer to thriller as Mahomes overcame some early struggles, made big plays with his arm and his legs and try as the 49ers did to deny him, in the end, all that experience, all that success, got Kansas City to the finish line first. In doing so, the Chiefs claimed their third Super Bowl title in five years and became the first team to go back-to-back since the New England Patriots did it in 2003-2004.
“The game was a microcosm of our whole season,” said Mahomes, who was the Most Valuable Player for the second straight year and third time overall. “The defense kept us in it.
“Just know that the Chiefs are never underdogs.”
The 49ers were 2-to-2.5 point favorites around Las Vegas and Mahomes and his teammates used it as motivational fuel. They fed off the underdog tag even though Kansas City was probably more deserving of being the betting favorite than San Francisco, the NFC champion.
But the public stayed on the 49ers and ultimately saw their betting slips turn to ashes thanks to Mahomes and a Kansas City defense that found a way to get stops when it needed to.
Brock Purdy, the young San Francisco quarterback who had gone from Mr. Irrelevant following being the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and was looking to be a Super Bowl champion. He played well and did a lot of good things.
His problem? He doesn’t have Mahomes’ experience.
“We never stop believing,” Mahomes said. “I never lost faith. When I see six, seven of our receivers catching balls, I believe.”
It didn’t matter if it was first down or fourth down. When Mahomes needed to keep a drive alive and give kicker Harrison Butker a chance to put points on the board, he found a way. And despite a lackluster first half that saw the Chiefs trailing 10-3, nobody was panicking. Even tight end Travis Kelce arguing with head coach Andy Reid on the sideline didn’t unnerve the Chiefs.
“It was drops and it was penalties,” said Reid. “If we took care of those things, I knew we’d be all right.”
They took full advantage of the abnormally long 29-minute halftime to regroup. And even though they began the second half stuck in first gear, eventually Mahomes got things going and did enough things right to not lose contact with the 49ers. He would finish throwing for 333 yards on 34-of-46 passing and rushed for 66 more yards on nine carries.
“We just circled the wagons,” said Kelce, who overcame his slow start of just one reception in the first half to finish with nine catches and 93 yards.
Yes, they were the beneficiaries of some luck. A third-quarter punt hit the foot of San Francisco’s Darrell Luter and was recovered by the Chiefs’ Justin Watson at the 49ers’ 16. Mahomes then connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling to give Kansas City a 13-10 lead.
And when San Francisco answered to retake the lead, the Chiefs blocked Jake Moody’s PAT try to make it a 3-point instead of a 4-point game at 16-13. That would be critical as Butker’s 29-yard field goal with six seconds left tied it at 19 and force OT.
There was also the loss of linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who may have torn his Achilles tendon in the second quarter and never returned. It created a big hole in the San Francisco defense and probably contributed to Kelce’s big second half.
Butker had booted four field goals, including a Super Bowl-record 57-yarder in the third quarter which eclipsed the record Moody had set earlier in the game when he nailed one from 55 yards inside climate-controlled Allegiant Stadium.
San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan could only tip his hat to Mahomes.
“He’s a great player,” Shanahan said. “We had our chances. But we’ll be back.”
Purdy, who finished 23 of 38 for 255 yards passing and a touchdown, said: “It sucks. You want to win for those guys. All the veterans. It’s real frustrating to come this close and come up short.”
As for Mahomes, he continues to carve his niche as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. And while Tom Brady has seven Super Bowl rings, Mahomes, at age 28 and has three in five years, is hungry for more.
“We’re not done,” Mahomes said. “But I think this one is the most special one. We had to go on the road and win. We dealt with some adversity. But in the end, we found a way.”
When asked about comparisons between Brady and Mahomes, Reid said, “I think Tom’s as proud of him as anybody.”
The Chiefs may have given their fans kittens as they found themselves in a hard-fought battle. But in the end, thanks to their quarterback, everyone in the Kingdom, including Taylor Swift, who had flown all he way from Japan to watch her boyfriend Kelce play, was able to breathe a sigh of relief and celebrate in Vegas. As did the bettors who had wagered on the Chiefs along with the total going under 47.5 points (the game landed on 47).
“We can make it easy,” Mahomes said. “But what’s the point in that?”