LAS VEGAS - The party would not end, no matter how ugly it seemed. That made Super Bowl LVIII the most Vegas thing ever, a kind of evening that persisted more than it shined, a spectacle that turned into a defensive bender.
It was compelling, momentum-swinging and a borderline train wreck. It felt as though the San Francisco 49ers won the game multiple times, but there were the Kansas City Chiefs, who love comeback drama, comfortable amid distress. The teams needed overtime to decide the rematch of a Super Bowl four years ago that put the Chiefs on a dynasty path and sent the 49ers on a circuitous journey to climb the last step from good to great.
It was a night filled with gaffes, punts, long field goals, hard hits and moment after moment that you just knew would spell the end for either team. It ended the most soul-stirring way possible, with all-world quarterback Patrick Mahomes calling for the football with a championship on the line.
Mahomes came through again, this time with his greatest walk-off Super Bowl moment. He threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman in overtime to deliver the Chiefs their third championship in five seasons in a 25-22 victory Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium.
“The Kansas City Chiefs are never underdogs - just know that,” Mahomes said as the Chiefs raised another Lombardi Trophy.
A defensive grudge match finished with quarterbacking brilliance as the Chiefs clinched a victory that should officially earn them the dynasty label.
It’s never a good idea to allow the Chiefs to stay upright when they’re staggering. During this six-year run with Mahomes as their starter, they’ve increased their degree of difficulty with rhythm-less starts to games, only to rally with ferocity when the opponent can’t put them away. In the regular season, they do it out of boredom or, more likely, because they are always the biggest game on the other team’s schedule.
But the habit extends to the playoffs, where they’ve built a dynasty while playing on the edge.
In all four Super Bowls, Kansas City has trailed by at least 10 points. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, playing at home in Super Bowl LV, refused to let them back into the game.
Mahomes and the Chiefs were at their most resilient. They came back from a 10-0 deficit to win this one, tying the score at 19 at the end of regulation and then answering San Francisco’s overtime field goal with a touchdown to claim the Lombardi Trophy again.
For a second Super Bowl against the Chiefs, the 49ers must lament not putting them away.
The 49ers were beating the Chiefs too thoroughly to be ahead just 10-3 at halftime. For most of the opening two quarters, they were far superior on offense and defense. Coach Kyle Shanahan, the dynamic 44-year-old offensive mastermind who has done everything except win a championship, came up with another exquisite game plan, exploiting matchups against Kansas City’s linebackers early before attacking every level of the Chiefs’ defense. Quarterback Brock Purdy, the former Mr. Irrelevant who has taken a star turn, got comfortable quickly, completing his first six passes.
San Francisco scored the first touchdown on a trick play, with Purdy tossing a backward pass to wide receiver Jauan Jennings, who then threw across the field to Christian McCaffrey. Although it was a classic feeble receiver hurl, McCaffrey snagged it and weaved through the defense for a 21-yard touchdown that gave the 49ers a 10-0 lead with 4:23 left in the half.
That lead should have been bigger.
In the first quarter, San Francisco outgained Kansas City 125-16. The 49ers’ defense harassed Mahomes and disrupted any chance for the Chiefs to get into an early flow, allowing San Francisco to dominate time of possession. But on the 49ers’ first two drives, two of their reliable superstars made mistakes that derailed them.
On the opening series, McCaffrey lost a fumble after Kansas City linebacker Leo Chenal ripped the ball from him. Linebacker George Karlaftis recovered, ending a drive that San Francisco had made look easy before the turnover. The Chiefs took over at their own 27-yard line, a takeaway that prevented San Francisco from at least attempting a field goal. Until the error, the possession seemed destined to conclude in the end zone, but for the third straight game this postseason, the 49ers failed to score a touchdown in the first quarter.
Then all-pro left tackle Trent Williams committed back-to-back penalties to wreck their second drive. The 49ers were all over Mahomes early, taking away the Chiefs’ screen passes and bursting through the line to collect sacks, hurries and negative running plays. But their inability to play clean football kept them from making the defending champions play a more daunting game of catch-up. It felt like a huge win for the slow-starting Chiefs.
San Francisco took a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter on Jake Moody’s 55-yard field goal. And then it was Kansas City’s turn to foil itself with a costly turnover.
Mahomes had just displayed some of his singular brilliance, completing a 53-yard pass to Hardman that traveled about 70 yards in the air. The play put Kansas City nine yards from the end zone, but with 11:59 remaining in the second quarter, San Francisco cornerback Deommodore Lenoir yanked running back Isiah Pacheco’s arm, forcing a fumble that Javon Hargrave recovered, ruining the best opportunity of Kansas City’s shiftless offensive start.
Travis Kelce caught one pass for one yard in the first half. With Mahomes under pressure, he could throw the way of his star tight end just once. After the Pacheco fumble, cameras caught Kelce upset on the sideline. He yelled and bumped Coach Andy Reid, who stumbled slightly during the altercation.
Finally, Mahomes threw his way for a second time in the third quarter. The overthrown pass was intercepted.
It would be their final mistake. After that, the Chiefs did what they do best. They rallied. They recovered. They won yet again.