Miami, FL — Before Super Bowl LIV, we knew one team’s defense was going to play a factor in the final outcome. However, it was the defense we least expected that came up big.
After giving up 20 points in the first three quarters, the Kansas City Chiefs defense clamped down on the San Francisco 49ers offense and held them scoreless the remainder of the game. This allowed the Chiefs offense to inch their way back scoring 21 unanswered points, resulting in a 31-20 victory.
For Kansas City head coach Andy Reid, this is the first Super Bowl victory of his career and the organization’s second Super Bowl win in team history. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes won the Super Bowl MVP award for his part in the Chiefs comeback and finished with 286 passing yards and three total touchdowns.
Getting it done on the ground
All year Kansas City has had one of the more dynamic passing attacks in the NFL but it was their run game that played a big factor in Kansas City’s comeback victory.
When playing a defense like the 49ers, becoming one-dimensional as an offense is not ideal. While the Chiefs weren’t very successful running the ball early on, they continued to incorporate it in their offense to keep the 49ers defense honest.
As a unit, the Chiefs offense collected 129 rushing yards with 104 of those yards coming via running back Damien Williams. The back averaged 6.1 yards per carry and played a big part in the receiving game as well hauling in four receptions for 29 yards and a touchdown.
Mahomes started off the second half throwing two interceptions on back-to-back possessions which dug the Chiefs in a big hole. The four-man rush of the 49ers brought constant pressure and sacked Mahomes twice in the quarter and forced a few more incompletions.
Down 10 points with just over a quarter to go, it would have been easy for Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to ditch all running plays.
However, running the ball paid dividends for their offense especially in their last scoring drive as Williams ran for 42 yards on two carries and sealed the victory for the Chiefs with his 38-yard touchdown scamper.
During the regular season, the Chiefs only averaged 98.6 rushing yards per game while Williams averaged 45.3 yards per game individually.
Locking it down late
The 49ers looked to be firing on all cylinders coming out of halftime. San Francisco gained 115 yards on 15 plays in their first two drives of the half, which resulted in a 20-10 late in the third quarter.
After throwing an interception in the first half, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garopolo seemed to find his rhythm completing 10 of his next 11 passes. The 49ers looked like they had found a groove and would not be stopped.
After the 49ers second score, there was a shot of Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu trying to fire up his teammates on the sideline. Whatever he told them worked.
The Chiefs defense held the 49ers scoreless on their next four possessions and it was a multitude of players stepping up to make plays. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland led the Chiefs in tackles with seven, recorded an interception in the first half and had a key pass deflection in the second half.
Cornerback Kendal Fuller and linebacker Anthony Hitchens each had big pass deflections in the secondary during the second half. The trio of Chris Jones, Frank Clark and Ben Niemman also played a large part up-front creating pressure on Garoppolo.
While it may have only resulted in one sack, the presence of Kansas City pass rushers was felt by Garopolo which led to plenty of off-target throws. He threw his second interception of the game on their final drive looking to get the ball to his receiver Deebo Samuel, but Fuller made a better play on the ball and came away with the pick.
Ditching their bread and butter
While watching the game, it looked like the 49ers had things in control once they went up 20-10. As a viewer, I thought all they have to do is continue running the ball and play keep away from the Chiefs offense.
However, in their final four possessions, the 49ers ran the ball only four times. Running the ball had been a strength of theirs all season as they finished with the second-most rushing yards during the regular season and ran all over the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan trusted Garropolo one too many times down the stretch and it ended up costing them dearly. Shanahan’s best gameplan all postseason was to minimize the number of times Garropolo had to drop back and throw the ball.
Once the 49ers ditched the play-action pass on their final two possessions, Garroppolo stood little chance against the Chiefs defense.
Remember, Shanahan was the play-caller for the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl VI that blew the infamous 28-3 lead they had on the New England Patriots at halftime. While it may not have been as big of a lead this time, Shanahan’s play-calling down the stretch played a large part in the 49ers loss.