The Super Bowl almost put me to sleep. Watching the game in London meant staying up until after 3 a.m. local time to see the final moments. I didn’t think I would make it that far. And with the Chiefs appearing incapable of doing much against the Niners’ defense for most of the game, I had turned around to sleep right before the play that changed the game.
At that point, almost midway through the fourth quarter, the Niners were up by 10 points and the Chiefs’ offense was struggling. San Francisco had managed to take away the Kansas City’s big play ability while also keeping star quarterback Patrick Mahomes under constant pressure. Though recent Super Bowls have shown a history of surprises, hope and time were running out for Andy Reid’s men. I was ready to call it a night.
Josh Norman, a broadcaster calling for the game for Sky Sports, made a point early in the night that the Niners had to keep putting big, legal hits on Mahomes. It didn’t matter if the defenders missed the sack or if Mahomes managed to gain big yards, the point of those hits would be to rattle him. The effect was to be cumulative, so, as the game wore on, Mahomes would wear down and become afraid of being hit.
The Niners did just that. Mahomes was sacked three times, but he was hit and hurried consistently. Jimmie Ward, in particular, hit Mahomes so hard during a run in the first quarter that Ward himself was injured, though Mahomes seemed to jump up immediately. As the game began to wind down, it appeared as if the Niners constant pressure and hits had done its job. Mahomes was missing what had been easy throws for him all season and looked jittery in the pocket. A player who bordered on infallible going into the Super Bowl began to look incredibly human and nervous.
Then in the fourth, with a bit over seven minutes left in the game, down by 10 points, the Chiefs faced a third-and-15 on their own 35. If they were to have any hope of a comeback, Mahomes had to create something great out of that desperate situation. If there was any moment to prove he was everything he was billed as — the unstoppable force, the new face of the NFL — it was then. He was 19-of-32 for 181 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions at that point, but the stage was set for him to be as heroic as he had been throughout the playoffs.
Mahomes was in shotgun, standing five yards behind the line of scrimmage. When he got the ball, and as the pressure pushed his offensive line back, he dropped back almost to the 20-yard line. That still didn’t seem enough to buy him space and time. Niners defenders made easy work of the offensive line and swarmed him. He was going to get tackled.
With the hit incoming, and the cumulative effects of all the other sacks and hurries still in his mind, Mahomes stepped up and launched the ball deep downfield before being taken down. The ball sailed high in the air and came down deep in the Niners territory at the 21-yard line, where it found a wide open Tyreek Hill for a 44-yard catch — the longest play of the game. Four snaps later, with the help of a defensive pass interference on third-and-10 by Tarvarius Moore, the Chiefs scored for the first time since the opening quarter.
The most fun Super Bowls seem to have one moment that defines the game, where fortunes change or a team solidifies its victory. The climax. A play which exemplifies all of those grand qualities of heroism, fearlessness, courage, and great ability that the championship is sold on. Mahomes’ pass to Hill was that all-defining play. It woke me up completely and epitomizes everything that is so exciting and deadly about Mahomes, and why it’s never safe to assume his team is out of a game.
No lead seems to be safe from Mahomes. In order to defeat him, an opposing team has to stay focused and diligent for the entire game. They have to crush him completely, because all he needs is one opening to undo all the hard work done to limit him. His ability with his arm and legs make him difficult to contain, but he also has a courage that makes him extremely dangerous.
It’s not that he’s fearless, or he doesn’t get rattled, because it was evident through most of the game that the pressure was affecting him. Instead, he always approaches the next play as if it is going to be the one that kickstarts a resurgence, regardless of what happens before it or the difficulties of the situation. He never loses faith in his ability. That’s how, on third-and-15 — with a shaky performance leading up to the fourth quarter on the biggest stage of the entire sport — he can launch a 44-yard pass downfield while under pressure to keep his team alive before going on to carve through a once-suffocating defense to earn the come-from-behind win.
That ability to suddenly reach an elevated state of performance is stunning to watch. It happened numerous times over the playoffs when his team was down big and has been consistent throughout his career. It makes him one of the most entertaining players to watch, and it has, unsurprisingly, led to him winning the NFL MVP award, a Super Bowl, the Super Bowl MVP, and becoming the face of the NFL within three years of entering in the league.
As long as Mahomes keeps playing this way, the league will continue to be his playground.