MIAMI – Lined up left to right, here are the top five reasons Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was able to complete the 44-yard pass that would begin morphing him from Super Bowl LIV goat to a 24-year-old champion fielding questions about becoming the NFL’s next G.O.A.T.:
Left tackle Eric Fisher, left guard Stefen Wisniewski, center Austin Reiter, right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
If the Vikings want to end a 43-year absence between Super Bowls next season, they need a front wall like this. Nothing else they do this offseason will matter if this bedrock need is not finally satisfied from tackle to tackle.
Now, back to Kansas City
Like Mahomes, Kansas City’s offensive line was struggling with a 49ers pass rush that features five first-rounders. The Chiefs’ blazing downfield speed was being neutralized, Mahomes was coming off interceptions on back-to-back possessions, and the 49ers were leading 20-10 with seven minutes left.
The Chiefs faced third-and-15 from their 35-yard line.
“They were playing this kind of robber coverage all game long where the safety was coming down and kind of robbing all our deep cross routes,” Mahomes said. “So we had a good play call on it where we had [Travis] Kelce do a little stutter deep cross. And we had Tyreek [Hill] getting one-on-one with that safety.”
Yeah, the play call was great. Yeah, Hill is the fastest player in the league. And, yeah, Mahomes has the giant arm and savviness far beyond his birthdate.
But none of that matters if the big fellas can’t block Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, etc., etc.
“The biggest thing [about the play] was we needed really good protection,” Mahomes said. “It was a long route. It was actually the same play we ran against New England in the playoffs last year where I hit [Hill] down the sideline. So, we had good protection by the offensive line. They gave me enough time and I put I out there and Tyreek made a great play.”
That first deep-ball completion changed the game just in time. Including that play, Mahomes had a stretch of nine passes in which he completed seven balls for 96 yards, three first downs and two touchdowns as the Chiefs took a 24-20 lead en route to the 31-20 win at Hard Rock Stadium.
Mahomes took a bow as the game’s youngest MVP quarterback. And only one offensive lineman — Fisher — was brought into the interview tent.
“Those guys don’t like a lot of attention,” said coach Andy Reid, the former line coach and lineman. “They don’t need a lot of attention.”
The Chiefs’ line is great proof that you don’t need five first-rounders to be successful. You just have to know a lineman when you see one. And you have to be able to project how he’ll fit your scheme.
Fisher was the first overall draft pick in 2013. Wisniewski is a nine-year veteran the Chiefs signed off the street in October. Reiter, a seventh-rounder of Washington’s in 2015, was claimed off waivers from the Browns in 2018.
Duvernay-Tardif, a med school graduate, was found in the sixth round in 2014 out of McGill University in Montreal, for gosh sakes. And Schwartz, the best right tackle in football, was a prized free agent signing from Cleveland in 2016.
“We knew we had a really good challenge against the 49ers’ front,” Fisher said. “They’re unbelievable. What we did [Sunday] wasn’t perfect. But we got the job done, and we’re going home to Kansas City to celebrate.”
In winning his first Super Bowl, Reid, the sixth-winningest coach in league history, tied a record by converting two fourth-and-1 situations. You don’t do that without trusting your offensive line. Nor do you go direct snap to running back Damien Williams on fourth-and-1 from the 5-yard line.
The latter gained 4 yards and set up the Chiefs’ first touchdown and a 7-3 lead. After a 10-10 halftime tie, things would get extremely bumpy as Mahomes’ streak of 164 career postseason passes without an interception turned into two picks in eight attempts.
But everything changed when five under-the-radar grunts gave Mahomes all the time he needed to launch an already-illustrious career into the stratosphere of Super Bowl lore.
And poor 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was there to witness it and have his name attached to the wrong side of the two biggest comebacks in Super Bowl history. Three years ago, he was offensive coordinator for a Falcons team that infamously blew a 28-3 lead against the Patriots.
Asked what happened on the 44-yard completion that turned everything on his sideline upside down, Shanahan said he wasn’t quite sure, except for one thing:
“[Mahomes] was allowed to hold the ball for a while, and Tyreek got behind us.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org