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Mahomes Report: Super Bowl vs. San Francisco

Welcome to the Mahomes Report, a weekly breakdown from Brendan Dzwierzynski of what Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes did, either good or bad, during the most recent Chiefs game. For past editions, click here.

The Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl champions. Patrick Mahomes is a Super Bowl MVP.

We’ll get to the highlights soon enough. First, take a minute to bask in how remarkable those two sentences truly are.

Super Bowl LIV was not, on balance, one of Mahomes’ best games. In fact, through the first few minutes of the fourth quarter it was one of his worst. There was a smattering of impressive passing over the first three periods, but legends are made when games are on the line. When he needed to be a superhero on Sunday, Mahomes stepped up to the challenge.

Deep balls, touchdowns, scrambles, you name it and QB1 did it at some point during the Super Bowl. Even with a handful of mistakes and subpar stats for his lofty standards, Mahomes’ effort against the 49ers will never be forgotten.

Comp. % Yards TD INT Rate
61.9 286 2 2 78.1

Mahomes Good

Generally, we start the Report with Mahomes’ touchdown passes, but you can’t tell the story of the Chiefs’ historic comeback without highlighting a clutch, desperately needed deep ball to Tyreek Hill on third and 15 midway through the fourth quarter.

The offensive line did just enough on this play to keep the interior of the pocket clean, which was a rarity for much of Sunday night. But, combined with a deep dropback, Mahomes has time here to try to make something happen. You can see him scan all levels of the field, looking for anyone who may be open, eventually settling on Hill and turning it loose. He gets all that done despite pressure getting close on his blind side. This is roughly a 54-yard throw through the air, letting it fly from his own 23 to the San Francisco 23.

Why was Hill so open? Next Gen Stats illustrates a coverage lapse by the 49ers that allowed the speedster to separate.

Cornerbacks K’Waun Williams (24) and Emmanuel Moseley (41) both play to the outside, which leaves a linebacker as the only defender between Hill and the open field. Nobody picks him up. The inside angle of Hill’s route carries safety Jimmie Ward (20) up the field and toward the middle, so when he breaks to the outside Ward goes into scramble mode to catch up. Hill does a good job getting open, but Mahomes had to put everything he had into a throw just to get it there. This was the play that swung the game for the Kansas City offense.

The drive was capped off by Mahomes’ first touchdown pass.

Multiple moving pieces in the backfield help free up Travis Kelce in the back of the end zone. With Anthony Sherman leaking out to the backside of the play on play action and Damien Williams running to the right flat, the linebackers are forced to approach the line and make a play on one of the backs. That allows Kelce to patrol the back of the end zone wide open. Good work by Mahomes to sell the fake, roll with Williams to keep that option open should things go south and then to make the throw to Kelce.

Williams ended up catching the second touchdown pass of the game, which was also the decisive score.

Once again, the Chiefs use backfield misdirection to create separation. This time it’s Williams and Hill flanking Mahomes in the shotgun, and you can see Ward slide toward the left side of the play slightly after the play fake. On a play that was so close it had to go to review, that split-second shift was a difference maker. Kelce’s block on Richard Sherman (25) also deserves credit. Apparently he can do that, who knew? Anyway, Mahomes does a nice job tossing the ball over Dee Ford (55), with Williams doing the rest.

Both of those scores came in the fourth quarter as part of the legendary comeback, but Mahomes found the end zone for himself in the first quarter as well.

A reverse option on the goal line in the Super Bowl. That’s erotic, to say the least. Linebacker Kwon Alexander (56) hits Mahomes as he scores, but the play really comes down to safety Jaquiski Tartt (29), who is left out to dry. He overpursued Williams, so Mahomes takes it in himself. Had he made the opposite play and attacked Mahomes, though, Williams would have waltzed in. It’s nice to have a quarterback who can handle this kind of play. Ken Niumatalolo would be proud.

The bomb to Hill wasn’t the only deep completion for Mahomes against the 49ers. This next pass, one of several key ones to Sammy Watkins, took advantage of a great route that toasted a future hall of famer.

Sherman gets absolutely cooked here, and the illustrations on this clip point out why. Watkins is running a go route, and he releases to the inside. Sherman, who was entangled in a Twitter beef with former All-Pro cornerback (and former Chief) Darrelle Revis this week over his ability to play man coverage, plays an outside release. That allows Watkins to run with a nearly clean release on the inside while Sherman plays catch-up. The yellow box shows the instant Sherman gets beaten. For Mahomes’ part, this is his prettiest pass of the day. He sees Watkins win the route and doesn’t need to step into the throw. Instead, he can establish a firm base and drop a touch pass into Watkins’ hands in stride. The combination of a great route and a great throw is perfect.

Watkins has proven during the postseason that he’s still a dangerous weapon, and he caught a few of the deepest completions of the Super Bowl. Along with the previous play, he caught a deep ball from Mahomes in the first half that led to another score.

This is a concept the Chiefs used earlier in the season, and this time Watkins was left all alone up the left sideline. He runs a drag across the formation before turning up the field and no one picks him up. You can see play action momentarily freeze the linebackers, then Mahomes goes through his progression before settling on Watkins. He steps up to get just out of the path of defensive end Joey Bosa (97) and puts the (wobbly) throw on target. Another big gain with a strong throw under pressure.

Mahomes also found Watkins a couple of times while extending plays out of the pocket.

More play action from Mahomes, but this time he has to evade pressure to his right when the pocket folds. This is one of the classic Mahomes plays that he keeps alive until the bitter end, rolling right and hopping back to deliver the throw to Watkins. Consider how challenging it is to stunt your forward momentum in the face of pressure while rolling to your dominant side, throwing back toward the middle of the field and completing a pass with a tight spiral. Excellent poise on display here, and credit to Watkins for working back to the ball to give Mahomes a target.

Designed bootlegs worked for Mahomes on Sunday, too.

We’ll put the offensive line under the microscope later, but that group struggled to keep Mahomes out of harm’s way consistently. Moving the pocket, whether by design or necessity, was important for the Chiefs to keep moving the ball against the Niners. Watkins is wide open because Hill’s vertical route creates a natural pick on Watkins’ defender, creating a ton of separation with a modification of the sail concept. It makes things simple for Mahomes, who can just follow Watkins until he has a huge cushion and then loft a pass in to him.

Bootlegs were important early in the game, too, just to get Mahomes in a rhythm after a slow start.

This is a tremendous pump fake by Mahomes. Alexander is focused so intently on Mahomes that the pump fake drags him too far out to the right, allowing Hill to slip back to the inside behind him. He keeps running right to sell the fake, then fires a dart to Hill to get nine yards. Just a simple example of Mahomes manipulating the defense mid-play.

Kelce caught Mahomes’ first touchdown pass, and he was also on the receiving end of our final Laser of the Week this season.

This is a laser worthy of being in Moonraker. The conflict player on this RPO is linebacker Fred Warner (54), who flows ever so slightly toward the run action with Williams. One step out of the way is too much, because Mahomes fires a lightning-quick rocket to Kelce. A pass with this kind of velocity got Mahomes in trouble later, but here it works for a decent gain.

On a later pass to Kelce, Mahomes takes advantage of a free play.

Good work by Mahomes to get the snap off when he sees defensive lineman Earl Mitchell (93) jump into the neutral zone. He finds Kelce beating Moseley on a dig and throws a dart right to him. That’s in spite of pressure from his front right and the left edge. He can’t step into the pass, but generates the power behind it with good weight transfer from back to front and his natural arm talent. Quality throw on the first touchdown drive of the game.

Kelce wasn’t the only tight end who got in the mix on Sunday.

Wichita’s own Blake Bell caught one pass, and it was on a play just like one that went for a score against the Houston Texans in the divisional round. Bell is lined up tight left and runs a wheel while Kelce comes across the formation from the right behind the line. Kelce attracts the attention in the flat, which allows Bell to run free behind the linebackers. Mahomes has to make a tough throw, sliding left and slinging it across his body in that direction, but it’s right on the money.

We’ve already seen Mahomes make big plays in this game with his legs, but this next one was arguably one of the most important of the night.

Bosa was a menace throughout the Super Bowl, constantly applying heat on the quarterback. This time Mahomes gets the better of him, though, scampering out of a low tackle attempt while still knowing where he can go with the ball and not panicking. The throw itself is nothing particularly special, just a little toss to Kelce for a first down, but had Mahomes not broken away from Bosa the complexion of the entire go-ahead drive is changed.

How often do you see a quarterback get hit so hard on a run that the defender ends up getting hurt? How about when all that unfolds and the quarterback gets up (seemingly) unscathed?

Ward lays the wood on Mahomes here, and it’s effective because the fumble he forced actually took away a first down (although the Chiefs would convert one play later). This is phenomenal toughness and leadership on display from Mahomes, making a play when nobody else could.

And he wasn’t done sacrificing his body for the cause, either.

Nobody wants to be chased by Ford and Arik Armstead (91), but Mahomes tucks and runs when he had no other option. There are examples of players who won’t risk their body at any cost, even at the Super Bowl, but Mahomes was willing to do it to help the Chiefs. In the end, that paid off.

Mahomes Bad

Mahomes was picked off twice by the 49ers, and the first interception was a baffling decision by No. 15.

This is another designed rollout to the right, but Mahomes doesn’t have a ton of time as Armstead breaks free. Mahomes targets Hill, but Warner is standing right in front of him. It’s hard to imagine he didn’t see Warner, since he prevented a passing lane from ever opening. Several throws seemed somewhat flat in the third quarter and early in the fourth for Mahomes, and if you want to give him the benefit of the doubt you could argue this throw just ended up not going where he tried to put it. Otherwise, it’s a truly bad pick.

The second interception featured a little more bad luck.

The laser to Kelce? Great use of the fastball. A throw behind Hill with three defensive backs nearby? Not so much. Hill is running a slant from the left middle slot and Mahomes just misses him with a semi-sidearm throw. There’s too much velocity on the ball for Hill to make much of a play on it, giving Tarvarius Moore (33) a chance to play the ricochet. Mahomes picked the right target, he just missed the throw.

For what it’s worth, after this interception Mahomes went 8-of-12 for 114 yards with two touchdowns.

More than a couple social media users noted during the game that something just didn’t look right with multiple throws from Mahomes. He had a few uncharacteristic misses, like this pass in the third quarter:

Off the top of your head, you may be able to count the number of times Mahomes missed a throw this badly during the regular season on one hand. Watkins is open across the middle and a good throw could spring him for a big gain. Like the play we just saw above, Mahomes simply missed his man.

Then there was the play in the first half, on the field goal drive, that was agonizing to watch fall apart.

This isn’t entirely on Mahomes, but it’s a combination of an overthrow by him and Williams slowing down the route. You can see Williams stutter to try to create separation from Dre Greenlaw (57), but that throws off the timing for Mahomes on the wheel route. This play has become nearly an automatic score for the Chiefs when run correctly (as recently as the divisional round), so for it to fall by the wayside when there was space to make it work was painful.

Non-Mahomes Good

Dagger.

Williams played phenomenally and had a legitimate claim to the Super Bowl MVP award. He finished with 133 total yards and two touchdowns, including 104 yards rushing. This touchdown scamper put the game out of reach and allowed Chiefs fans to finally exhale, because with a two-score lead and little time left the championship was decided by now. Several players stepped up in crucial moments on Sunday, but for Williams it was the climax of a late-season surge that saw an increase in his productivity and the Chiefs’ offensive potency.

Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy called a largely masterful game in Super Bowl LIV, including a plethora of old-school runs. How old school? How about a play straight out of the 1940s.

Bieniemy said after the game that he lifted this play from the 1949 Rose Bowl (it was actually 1948, but close enough). A side-by-side look at the plays is below.

This is the kind of thing that separates great coaches from good coaches. Great coaches are willing to pull out every single stop when they need to and can use a deep, vast, historical array of knowledge to build a game plan. Not only did they get wild calling 70+ year old plays, but they called ones that worked.

Mahomes’ rushing touchdown wasn’t the only option run in the game plan, either.

This is a smart play by Mahomes, good execution by Williams and a gutsy decision by the play callers. Reid was never going to leave anything in the bag for this game. He made sure to throw everything he could at San Francisco.

As for the defense, several players rose to the occasion and made plays that helped decide the game. That includes Kendall Fuller, who followed a near pick late in the fourth quarter with the eventual defensive dagger.

The 49ers were desperate in the game’s waning moments, but Jimmy Garoppolo really just threw this ball up and prayed that it may turn into a positive somehow. Good job by Fuller to climb the ladder to rip any glimmer of hope away from San Francisco.

Bashaud Breeland had a bunch of nice plays in the Super Bowl. That included a couple physical tackles and an early interception.

Breeland gets the credit for the takeaway, but this turnover was created up front. Chris Jones swims past right guard Mike Person (68) and gets to Garoppolo. The quarterback doesn’t go down, but as he throws the ball he gets popped by Mike Pennel, who shed center Ben Garland (63) near the line of scrimmage and still got deep in the backfield to make the hit. Those two players forced the bad throw, Breeland just finished off the play.

On a key third down in the fourth quarter Garoppolo was forced into another incomplete pass when he got hit, this time by a truly unexpected name.

Ben Nieman was relegated to minimal action down the stretch this year, but he deserves credit for a couple of crucial snaps this week. He had a good tackle on kickoff coverage, then on this play he came untouched up the middle on a delayed blitz and crushed Garoppolo, whose throw ended up nowhere near a receiver. Varied blitz looks are something that Garoppolo struggles with, and on the final few drives Steve Spagnuolo did a great job of giving him different looks and throwing him off.

Speaking of pressure:

If you’re going to talk as much as Frank Clark did in the run up to the Super Bowl, you better be able to back it up. Clark did just that, sacking Garoppolo on fourth down when San Francisco desperately needed to convert. He starts on the left side of the play, twisting inside of Tanoh Kpassagnon before Jones, who beat his own man, takes out Garland and allows him to run free at the quarterback. Clark gets the sack here, and when paired with Jones, who was dominant despite not racking up much in the way of stats on Sunday, those two were decisive factors in the late defensive stands.

Non-Mahomes Bad

Through the first two games this postseason, the Kansas City offensive line had played really well. That was not the case on Sunday.

Eric Fisher was torched by Bosa regularly (the play in our first section in which Mahomes escapes a sack? Fisher got killed off the edge), but the interior line had a dreadful outing, too. On this snap it was a problem inside and with Fisher. Bosa attacks Fisher’s right shoulder and gets right to Mahomes, knocking the ball out of his hand. Fisher wasn’t even competitive on this rep.

That play was in the second quarter. In the third quarter DeForest Buckner (99) got home for his full sack (out of 1.5 for the game).

This time it’s Laurent Duvernay-Tardif that gets dominated, with Buckner swimming through to the inside without much resistance at all until the Canadian Doctor tries to wrap him up from behind, which also doesn’t work. Now is not the time to discuss offseason moves for fortifying the offensive line or anything, but it needs to be pointed out that against elite pass rushes you generally need to do better than what the Chiefs showed on Sunday night.

Also, while things obviously worked out in the end, sometimes we need a reminder not to get too cute.

With how poorly the offensive line was playing and with the way the offense was struggling with running regular plays, maybe a slow-developing end-around wasn’t the best decision in the second quarter. Mecole Hardman also made a mistake by running out of bounds when the Chiefs could have run off time before the half and not given the 49ers a chance to do anything. That’s something that will come with experience, though.

And let’s be honest, on today of all days, nobody wants to focus on the bad.

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