If NFL playoff contenders, championship dreamers and the usual also-rans hoped to catch the Kansas City Chiefs and cease their dominance, this was the season to do it.
Kansas City lost more regular season games (6) than ever with Mahomes as QB. For the first time since Mahomes became the face of the franchise, the Chiefs didn’t have home field advantage through the AFC playoffs. They were the betting underdogs in three straight postseason games, another first during the Mahomes Era.
Through much of the regular season the Kansas City offense was disjointed and lethargic. Too many unforced mistakes. Too many greasy-handed dropped passes. Mental gaffes – wrong routes, blown assignments, dumbbell penalties. Mahomes was intercepted a career-worst 14 times and at times his confidence gave way to intense frustration.
The Chiefs offense was a fast but problematic car that kept going into the garage for repairs. So much tinkering and tweaking but nothing seemed to work. The Arrowhead Advantage was demystified, with visiting teams winning four times in Kansas City during the regular season.
From Oct. 29 through Christmas Day, the Chiefs went 3-5 and averaged a joyless 15.2 points in their losses. The Arrowhead men finished the 2023 regular season with their lowest scoring average – 21.8 points per game – since Patrick Mahomes became Andy Reid’s starting quarterback in 2018. A startling number of teams (14) scored more points than the Reid-Mahomes kingship including the Browns, Saints, Colts, Texans and Jaguars.
Steve Spagnuolo’s uncompromising defense was the top reason for Kansas City’s regular-season survival, an 11-6 record, and the third seed in the AFC playoffs. But for all that had gone wrong, the Chiefs still had three things in their favor that gave them a chance:
1) The presence of the sublime coach and leader, Andy Reid, and a roster infused with championship culture.
2) The incomparable Mahomes, already established on the short list of the all-time best NFL quarterbacks at age 28.
3) The rowdy but ever reliable Spagnuolo defense that ranked second in the NFL this season in fewest points allowed, quarterback pressures, sacks and pass defense. If this defense had a motto, it would be something like this: we’ll blitz until you quit.
The Chiefs raided their way through the AFC playoffs, erasing the Dolphins, Bills and Ravens to set up a confrontation with the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 58.
And with eternal ownership of a Vince Lombardi Trophy at stake, the Chiefs offense reverted to its lagging sluggish regular-season form. In their first seven possessions of Super Bowl 58, the Chiefs punted four times, turned the ball twice on a fumble and interception, and scrounged for a field goal.
The 49ers, cushioned with a 10-0 lead, made a fatal mistake: they failed to keep the Chiefs down and could not put them to sleep. The Niners fell into the same paralyzed state that deleted the Dolphins, Bills and Ravens.
The worst Kansas City offense that Reid took into the playoffs was still armed with Mahomes – and ominously dangerous. Give these Chiefs a chance, and they’ll find your carotid artery.
As if on cue, the Chiefs scored on five of their final six possessions, banking two Mahomes touchdown passes and three field goals from Harrison Butker.
The team from Kansas City wrestled the Lombardi away from the Niners, triumphing 25-22 on Mahomes’ 3-yard touchdown pass to wideout Mecole Hardman on the first play of the second overtime.
The Chiefs became the NFL’s first repeat Super Bowl champion since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots. This was their third title in five seasons – three crowns to monumentalize a luminous 14-2 postseason record since 2019.
The Chiefs aggressed their way six consecutive conference championship games and four Super Bowls in the past five years. Teams aren’t supposed to do this in the salary-cap era, but then again the Chiefs are more than just an ordinary team.
Sunday night’s win made Kansas City one of seven NFL teams to win three or more Super Bowls. Do it again next season, and they’d be the first NFL franchise to win three consecutive Super Bowls.
Is it a dynasty?
“It’s the start of one,” Mahomes said on the field after the victory. “We’re not done.”
Here’s a closer look at the three big winners in Super Bowl 58:
Big Red became the fifth NFL head coach to win at least three Super Bowl victories, entering a club that has Bill Belichick (6), Chuck Noll (4), Bill Walsh (3) and Joe Gibbs (3).
This was the best coaching job of a distinguished career that included 258 regular-season wins, fourth most in league history – and 26 postseason victories, second only to Belichick’s 31.
Late in the schedule, Reid changed the trajectory of his team’s troubling season by modifying his offense to fit its prevailing strengths: a tight, disruptive defense that prevents points and an offensive line that effectively blocks to power up a physical running game. The significant adjustment reduced the offense’s errors and increased the efficiency. And Mahomes made the transformation to old-school football work. The quarterback was happy to defer to a defense-first philosophy as long as it gave KC a better chance to win in the postseason.
As usual Reid’s calmness sets the example and the tone for his winning team. Reid didn’t panic during his team’s stressful first half. He was stoic. He was focused. He is familiar and comfortable with the ups and downs and unexpected events that can put a game on tilt. The Chiefs trailed 10-3 at the half and Reid stayed level.
“When you’re in the Super Bowl and you’re down by seven points, it feels like 20,” Reid said after the game. “And so, you kind of just calm it down — we’re right there, we’re getting the ball to start the second half and everybody just hang with each other and good things can happen.”
I had to laugh after the game when the usual barking dogs were woofing their hot takes on social media in the usual desperate bid for fake tough-guy attention. From what I could gather, these fellers were demanding imprisonment for tight end Travis Kelce for racing over to make an overly aggressive protest to Reid in the first half. Kelce made contact with Reid and nearly knocked the 65-year-old coach over. It looked bad, sure. But later in the game Kelce apologized to Reid and received a pat on the back. Reid understands Kelce; the tight end’s burning intensity and pride is a big part of what makes him a future Hall of Famer.
Bench Kelce? Yeah, OK. After giving Kelce a chance to vent – knowing it would help Kelce reset – the most prolific tight end in NFL postseason history did his thing after halftime. After catching one ball for a yard in the first half, Kelce shook loose in the second half and overtime for eight catches that produced 92 yards, an average of 11.5 yards per reception. He repeatedly frustrated the 49ers with his standard big-play talent.
Reid’s patience was also responsible for the huge contributions of the two wide receivers that caught Kansas City’s two touchdowns: Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman.
With fans and media howling for a benching or release, Reid ignored the hubbub and stood by Valdes-Scantling all season. He endured the receiver’s dropped-pass habit to keep Valdes-Scantling’s head in the game.
Reid’s tolerance paid off during the postseason with Valdes-Scantling coming through with an average of 16 yards on eight receptions. He iced the win at Baltimore with a leaping catch. He hauled in the 18-yard TD pass from Mahomes that gave the Chiefs a 13-10 lead.
Hardman was part of Kansas City’s first two Super Bowl titles under Reid but moved on after last season to sign a one-year, $4 million deal with the comically inept Jets – who had no quarterback and idea what to do with Hardman. The opportunistic Reid gave them an outlet by offering a sixth-round draft choice to bring Hardman back to KC. Reid’s wisdom – that one move – led to the touchdown catch that won Super Bowl 58. That play was a Reid special, one he kept in his pocket and before using it to confuse the 49er defensive backs. Yeah, it worked.
“Coach Reid, man,” Mahomes said. “He knows when to call those plays at the right time. I believe he’s the best coach of all time. I know he doesn’t have the trophies yet — and I have a lot of respect for some of those great coaches — but the way he’s able to navigate every single team he has, and continues to have success no matter where he’s at, for me, he brings out the best in me because he lets me be me. I don’t think I’d be the quarterback I am if I didn’t have Coach Reid.”
A prominent factor in the outcome was the tiring of San Francisco’s defensive front. With Reid calling the plays, the Chiefs put together three long drives on their final three possessions: 12 plays and 69 yards (field goal), 11 plays and 64 yards (field goal, and 13 plays for 75 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass. The physical football was the foundation of Kansas City’s turnaround late in the season – and became the foundation for the fateful turnaround in Super Bowl 58. By the end, the weary 49ers had a depleted tank and were no match for Mahomes. Reid is a brilliant coach.
If San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan – now 0-2 in the Super Bowl as head coach – needs someone to look to as a model, it’s Reid. Despite tremendous regular-season success in Philadelphia and then Kansas City, Reid didn’t win his first Super Bowl until his 21st season. It is another story of patience and staying the course.
The Chiefs were straining early, but Mahomes shook off a careless interception. But the QB and his offense settled in and found the mojo. When KC scored 19 points on five of its last six possessions, Mahomes completed 20 of 27 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 113.8 passer rating on the five scoring drives and also ran the ball six times for 59 yards.
Mahomes erased a 10-0 deficit.
He erased a 16-13 deficit.
He erased a 19-16 deficit.
He erased a 22-19 deficit.
And Mahomes did it all with the least imposing — OK, mediocre — set of receivers he’s had in his six seasons as the starter.
On the winning drive in overtime, he completed all eight passing attempts for 43 yards and the touchdown throw. He distributed the ball to five different receivers. Mahomes also worsened Niners’ creeping fatigue with two big runs for 27 yards. The best quarterback in existence accounted for 70 yards of the 75-yard march to the title.
For the entire game, Mahomes passed for 333 yards and ran for 66 to account for 87.6 percent of Kansas City’s total yards.
More from the increasingly extensive Mahomes File:
— Mahomes is now 12-1-1 as an underdog and has won 10 of those games outright.
— Mahomes is now the only quarterback in Super Bowl history to lead his team to three comeback victories after being down in all three by 10+ points.
— In 18 career postseason games Mahomes is 15-3 with 41 touchdown throws, eight interceptions, an average of 285 yards passing per game and a passer rating of 105.8. That passer rating is the best in league history among quarterbacks that have started a minimum 10 games.
— Mahomes’ 15 career postseason wins are third behind Tom Brady and Joe Montana during the Super Bowl Era.
— At age 28, Mahomes is already 8th in NFL history for career postseason yards passing. He’s just moved ahead of John Elway and Dan Marino. The only seven quarterbacks with more postseason passing yards than Mahomes are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Joe Montana and Drew Brees.
— Mahomes now has 524 career postseason rushing yards, ranking fourth among quarterbacks all time behind Steve Young, Josh Allen and Russell Wilson. And Mahomes is tied for fourth with five rushing touchdowns in the postseason.
— Only three NFL quarterbacks have won three Super Bowls, three Super Bowl MVP awards and at least two regular-season MVPs: Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Mahomes.
— Mahomes is now one of five quarterbacks to win 3+ Super Bowls along with Brady, Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman. His three Super Bowl wins before age 30 also ties him with Brady and Aikman.
— Brady has five Super Bowl MVP awards, followed by Mahomes (3) and Montana (3). But Mahomes is the youngest to win three by age 28. Brady won his third at age 37, and Montana got his third at age 33.
— In going 4-0 in this year’s postseason, Mahomes completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,051 yards, six touchdowns, one INT and a passer rating of 100.3. He also rushed for an average of 43.5 yards in the four victories.
— The only quarterbacks with more postseason career touchdown passes than Mahomes are Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Montana and Brett Favre.
— With Sunday’s dramatic rallies from four different deficits, Mahomes now has five fourth-quarter comebacks and six game-winning drives in his 18 postseason games.
— Mahomes has joined an elite class of champions in the four professional team sports in North America. The combination of three league championships and two regular-season MVPs in the first seven seasons of a career has been pulled off by only seven players:
Larry Bird, NBA
Bill Russell, NBA
Mickey Mantle, MLB
Stan Musial, MLB
Joe DiMaggio, MLB
Guy LaFleur, NHL
Patrick Mahomes, NFL
“Thank God we have Patrick Mahomes, that’s for sure,” Spagnuolo said.
Spags made history Sunday, becoming the only defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl Era to win four league championships. This solidifies his status as the best defensive coordinator of his time. Spagnuolo coordinated Super Bowl champion defenses for the NY Giants in 2007, and for Reid and KC in the 2019, 2022 and 2023 seasons.
Spagnuolo didn’t have much of a chance to win as the head coach of the St. Louis Rams, and I believe he’d be much better if he got a second chance with a more astute organization. But the Rams experience shouldn’t detract from his masterful performance in running defenses.
In Super Bowl 58, the Chiefs trailed 10-3 at the half, but the Spags defense gave the Mahomes offense a chance to catch up by keeping the score close.
KC shut out the Niners in the third quarter and allowed nine points combined in the fourth quarter and overtime.
In the four postseason victories the Spagnuolo defense allowed only 22 points, total, in the third quarter, fourth quarter, and overtime. That covers nine quarters – which means the Chiefs gave up an average of 2.4 points per quarter to the Dolphins, Bills, Ravens and the 49ers once the game moved into the second half. Incredible.
In sweeping the postseason the Spags defense knocked out four of the NFL’s top six scoring offenses. Here are their scoring averages per game during the regular season:
* Niners 2nd in NFL, 28.6
* Dolphins 3rd in NFL, 27.9
* Ravens 4th in NFL, 27.7
* Bills 6th in NFL, 26.6
Those four playoff teams collectively averaged 27.7 points per game during the regular season. But none of the four could crack the Kansas City defense, managing a combined average of 15.7 per game against the Spags crew. In other words: Spagnulo and the Kansas City defenders held those four teams 12 points below their regular-season scoring average.
The Chiefs denied a game-winning touchdown on San Francisco’s final two possessions, keeping hope alive and Mahomes going by making huge stops and forcing the Niners to settle for two field goals.
“Coach Spags did all of this,” KC safety Justin Reid told reporters. “From the beginning to the end, guys bought into his system and game plan. He’s the only defensive coordinator to win Super Bowls with different teams, and he’s done it four or five times now. He’s just an unbelievable man, an unbelievable mentor, and an unbelievable father figure. He’s my favorite DC I’ve ever been a part of. I love Coach Spags.”
The 49ers went into Super Bowl 58 averaging 6.6 yards per play, the seventh-most by an offense in Super Bowl history. And again, they scored 28.6 per game during the regular season. But on Sunday Kansas City limited San Francisco to 5.3 yards per play and 19 points. And the Niners ran the ball 31 times but averaged only 3.5 yards per rushing attempt.
Spagnuolo’s pass rushers sacked quarterback Mark Purdy once and hit him six times. The pressure was especially effective late. Purdy. Per The Athletic, the Chiefs defense flew in with a season-high nine unblocked pressures, all on blitzes.
The Chiefs called on their defense to make rescues all season, all the way into overtime of the Super Bowl. But when the Niners had to settle for their second field goal in overtime – giving the KC offense a chance to win the championship – the outcome seemed inevitable. Mahomes cashed in. Again.
“That last drive was a thing of beauty,” Reid said.
But the defense made it possible, and Spags was there. Again. As expected, the Kansas City special teams played an important role in the victory. It was a full-squad, all-coaches demonstration of complementary football by Kansas City.
This is what happens when you have the Chiefs down but not out and leave an opening to let them get away. They win. And in 2023-2024, it didn’t have to be beautiful.
“I hope people remember not only the greatness that we had on the field but the way that we battled,” Mahomes said. “It’s not always pretty.”
For an NFL team, nothing is more lovely than winning the Super Bowl. And the Chiefs would not be denied. Again.
Thanks for reading …
A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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All stats used in my football columns are sourced from baseball columns are sourced from Football Reference, StatHead, Sports Info Solutions and Pro Football Focus.