Quarterback Patrick Mahomes knows where he’ll be for quite a while after signing a 10-year contract extension with the Kansas City Chiefs. He also has a rough idea of how many Super Bowl rings he wants to win.
In a “SportsCenter” interview on Friday, Mahomes told ESPN’s Nicole Briscoe that Tom Brady’s six Super Bowl victories makes for a nice target to pursue.
“I don’t know if there’s a number,” Mahomes said. “I mean obviously you try to chase greatness, and Tom’s got six, so I’m going to try to do whatever I can to at least get to that number.
Here are five reasons the 49ers (15-3) will beat the Chiefs (14-4) in Super Bowl LIV (FOX, 6:30 ET).
1. Sherman can shut down Hill’s deep game
In the regular season, Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill averaged 31.4 receiving yards per game on passes 20-plus yards downfield, third among wide receivers. San Francisco’s defense is tailor-made to stop a player like him. The 49ers allowed a league-low 34 passing plays of 20-plus yards in the regular season. That is a testament to their Cover-3 defense and the elite level at which cornerback Richard Sherman executes his role in the scheme. Sherman allowed 0.44 yards per cover snap in the regular season, best among cornerbacks. His positioning on the left side of the defense is the perfect counter to Kansas City, which led the NFL in frequency of 20-plus yard passing plays to the deep right (one every 25 pass attempts).
2. Favorable matchups for Kittle, RBs The Chiefs are highly vulnerable to running backs and tight ends. Kansas City allowed the most receiving yards per game to running backs (59.4) and the fifth-most yards per game to tight ends (60.1) in the regular season. Linebacker Damien Wilson ranked 81st of 87 qualifiers at the position (1.47 yards allowed per cover snap). Coming into the Super Bowl, the Chiefs have allowed a tight end to score a touchdown in three consecutive games. This bodes well for a 49ers offense that has the tight end ranked first at his position in yards per route run (George Kittle, 3.1) and the back ranked fourth (Kyle Juszczyk, 2.04).
3. They can shut down tight end Travis Kelce
San Francisco allowed 34.5 receiving yards per game to tight ends during the regular season, best in the NFL. Safeties and linebackers have chipped in excellent coverage to limit the opposition’s safety valves over the middle. Safety Jaquiski Tartt ranked 10th of 65 qualified safeties in yards allowed per cover snap (0.27) during the regular season. Linebackers Dre Greenlaw (0.89) and Fred Warner (1.04) ranked 14th and 22nd, respectively, among 50 qualified linebackers.
If you simply watched Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes play without paying attention to where the ball ended up, you would wonder how he made it to the NFL playing so recklessly. The way he dances around the pocket with gusto, the sidearm angles at which he passes, the across-his-body throws, the no-look bullets –- these are not things most NFL quarterbacks are supposed to even think about trying.
Yet Mahomes, who faces the 49ers’ No. 2-ranked defense in the Super Bowl on Sunday, has produced at a historically dominant level playing with this street-ball mentality. Week after week, the top-10 highlight packages are peppered with moments of Mahomes magic — bombs thrown to Tyreek Hill while scrambling, precisely placed corner routes to Travis Kelce, pinpoint strikes under pressure to Mecole Hardman.
The gunslinger from Texas Tech is an elite quarterback. There is absolutely zero way to craft a solid argument suggesting otherwise. However, the real question is, How great is Mahomes? With an excellent play-caller at head coach, a star-studded receiving corps, and a standout offensive line, has he benefited from a terrific supporting cast more than most realize? Or is Mahomes, who threw for 4,031 yards and 26 TDs this season, truly the best quarterback in the world?
Those are questions I set out to answer in analyzing the All-22 angles of every play from Mahomes’ 2019 season. I graded each play (excluding handoffs, of course) to get a gauge on his true overall performance level. By taking into account drops, pressure, throw difficulty, ball placement, down/distance, game situation and decision-making (did the quarterback choose the best option available?), we can get a more accurate evaluation of a quarterback’s performance. A box score does not account for these important factors.
I scored each Mahomes play on a 0-to-10 scale. An average play (screen passes, throwaways) received a 5, an inexcusably brutal play (awful turnovers or should-be turnovers) earned a 0, and the perfect play (flawlessly placed throws into tight windows under heavy pressure) warranted a 10. Most plays fall somewhere in the middle, with “plus” efforts scoring above 5 and “minus” efforts below. Each game’s final score was scaled from 0-100, with 50 being average.
Let’s dig into Mahomes’ 2019 season.
In Week 2, Mahomes strafed the Raiders’ defense for 443 yards passing. Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
BEST GAME: Week 2 at Raiders (93.2 grade) Mahomes put up stellar numbers, completing 30 of 44 passes for 443 yards (10.1 per attempt), three touchdowns and no interception and generating a 131.2 passer rating (90.4 is league average). Stat lines often tell the wrong story about how well the quarterback actually played, which we will get into plenty later on. In this case, Mahomes’ performance matched up with his outstanding numbers.
The Raiders were awful defensively in 2019, ranking 31st in DVOA. Mahomes beat them down as brutally as you would expect. In the second quarter, he had a seven-play stretch that might stand against any in the history of the league. He completed each of his final seven passes in the quarter for 210 yards and three touchdowns, with six of those completions being elite-level plays.
Mahomes was as Mahomes-ian as ever during this stretch, anticipating pressure and sliding away before it arrived to buy himself space. He completed tight-window deep throws on the move with wonderful precision. When the pocket was clean, he set himself and patiently dropped vertical throws down the sideline right into the bucket.
On this 3rd-and-20 play late in the second quarter, Mahomes begins sliding to the outside the instant it is clear pressure will come up the middle. This is an innate feel that Mahomes has at a level few quarterbacks ever have -– it’s Aaron Rodgers-esque. By doing this, Mahomes buys himself room to throw in a situation where most other quarterbacks would have been sacked or hit while throwing. It is still a highly pressured, off-balance throw, but Mahomes has the gift of an arm that can deliver accurate throws off a non-traditional base with ease. Mahomes effortlessly drops the ball over two defenders into the waiting arms of Mecole Hardman, who does not break stride.
Mahomes’ performance in the divisional round against Houston was a close second, grading 91.7. The Chiefs’ offense made life tough on Mahomes early, dropping passes and allowing heavy pressure, but he remained poised and made play after play outside the pocket to help erase Houston’s 24-0 lead. He was particularly good in the red zone, producing classic Mahomes moments with a laser-beam touchdown up the seam to Damien Williams and a leaping flick to Travis Kelce for another score.
WORST GAME: Week 6 vs. Texans (36.9 grade)
Mahomes is highly consistent, as I only graded two of his 16 games below an average grade of 50. His worst game was in a 31-24 loss at home to the Texans in Week 6.
Mahomes put up solid numbers, completing 19 of 35 passes for 273 yards (7.8 per attempt), three touchdowns and one interception and generating a 96.5 passer rating. But those numbers don’t reflect how poorly he played. Houston did an excellent job keeping Mahomes from escaping the pocket.
Thanks to his sublime accuracy and football IQ, Mahomes rarely makes costly mistakes, but the Houston game was one of the few instances in which his aggressive mentality produced negative results. In addition to an interception and a lost fumble, Mahomes threw two other passes that should have been intercepted, one of those seen below. Mahomes foolishly tries to squeeze this ball to Hill into an air-tight window between the corner and safety, and it is caught by Texans safety Justin Reid. Fortunately for Mahomes’ fantasy owners, Reid does not get two feet in bounds.
Mahomes’ only other sub-50 game was a 47.5 performance in New England, a game the Chiefs won, 23-16. The Patriots were so dominant defensively that Mahomes’ mediocre outing was one of the few decent quarterback performances they allowed all season.
Against New England, Mahomes played conservatively, a rare event, doing a nice job avoiding costly mistakes and keeping the chains moving. Those may seem like two simple tasks, but most quarterbacks could not come close to fulfilling them against the Patriots in 2019.
On the downside, Mahomes’ conservative approach led to him passing up open targets in the 20-plus yard range. A lack of big plays outside of the pocket was a common thread in Mahomes’ worst games.
The Super Bowl is full of wonderful feats of athleticism, toughness and bravery. It’s the world’s top athletes competing on the biggest stage, which means when they make terrible mistakes, we remember them forever.
In honor of the “Game of Games,” let’s look back at some moments from past Super Bowls that, years later, still make us cringe.
1 of 25
Leon Lett’s touchdown-turned-touchback
The Cowboys were leading, 52-17, in Super Bowl XXVII when Leon Lett recovered a Buffalo fumble and headed for the end zone that was 65 yards away. Seeing no one in front of him, Lett stretched out the ball and began to celebrate as he crossed the 10-yard line. However, Bills receiver Don Beebe sprinted back and managed to knock the ball out of the back of the end zone before Lett could score. The touchdown-turned-touchback didn’t cost Dallas the game…only the record for most points in a Super Bowl. Still, it’s hard to watch Lett watching himself on the Jumbotron but still failing to see the tiny receiver charging from behind.
2 of 25
Seahawks inexplicably throw away the game
Trailing 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX, Russell Wilson completed a miracle 33-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse. The ball was tipped multiple times and even went off Kearse’s leg, but he caught it. One play later, Seattle was on the 1-yard line, at which point coach Pete Carroll apparently forgot Marshawn Lynch was on his team. Lynch had taken the ball inches away from the goal line on the previous play, but Carroll inexplicably called a pass. Malcolm Butler picked it off, the Patriots won and Carroll had another improbable collapse to ponder.
3 of 25
Tim Krumrie suffers gruesome injury
Early in Super Bowl XXIII, Bengals nose tackle Tim Krumrie went to tackle Roger Craig and suffered the most gruesome injury in Super Bowl history. He planted his foot awkwardly, and his lower leg simply snapped. Horrified viewers saw his left foot spin around. (Don’t click if you’re squeamish!) Krumrie broke his ankle, tibia and fibula, and after being carted off the field, he got a 15-inch titanium rod implanted in his leg. Somehow he came back and played six more seasons after that.
By 2010, Charles Woodson had a college national championship, a Heisman Trophy, a Defensive Player of the Year Award and seven Pro Bowl appearances. However, in his career, Woodson had never won a Super Bowl. When he finally had his shot, he was anguished when he dove to defend a pass in Super Bowl XLV and broke his collarbone. Woodson left the game, but the remaining Green Bay defenders managed to hold off the Steelers enough to preserve a 31-25 win. After the game, Woodson had one arm in a sling — and the Lombardi Trophy in the other.
5 of 25
Miami’s imperfect field goal attempt
The Miami Dolphins are the only 17-0 team in NFL history, and they nearly finished the season with a 17-0 Super Bowl VII win. With just over two minutes left, leading 14-0, coach Don Shula sent in Garo Yepremian to kick a field goal. The kick was blocked, but instead of falling on the loose ball, Yepremian tried to pass. The ball slipped out of his hands, and the kicker batted the ball in the air — right into the hands of a Redskins cornerback. He ran it in for a touchdown, and suddenly the Dolphins had to sweat out a one-possession lead. They held on, so Garo didn’t have to face his teammates’ wrath for long.
The Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl LIV matchup came to be because of several seminal decisions by each conference champion. Kansas City’s ascension came after years on the precipice, and the 49ers completed one of the more remarkable rebuilds in NFL history.
Going into this era-defining matchup, here are five bold moves that shaped each franchise:
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan hoists the George Halas Trophy after defeating the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (15-3)
1. Forming an unusual partnership
In 2017, San Francisco became the first team in nearly 40 years to have back-to-back one-and-done head coaches (Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly). Then the team hired Kyle Shanahan as head coach and shocked the football world by pairing him with stealth GM candidate John Lynch, a Fox TV analyst without personnel experience. Each received a six-year contract. The 49ers went 10-22 from 2017-18 but only started QB Jimmy Garoppolo in eight of those games. (He missed 13 games last season because of a knee injury.) After the lengthy grace period, Shanahan and Lynch have the franchise in its seventh Super Bowl. The 49ers are the first team since the merger to follow four straight double-digit-loss seasons with a Super Bowl berth.
2. Adding foundational piece
The leadup to the 49ers’ Garoppolo acquisition remains a mystery. A trade candidate for much of 2017, the Patriots’ contract-year quarterback may or may not have beenjettisoned against Bill Belichick’s will. Despite the Browns reportedly willing to offer an early-first-round pick for the passer, Belichick instead contacted Shanahan in October 2017 and agreed to take a second-rounder for Tom Brady’s seldom-seen backup. Shanahan was planning a 2018 Kirk Cousins pursuit, as the parties worked together in Washington. Garoppolo’s 5-0 record in 2017 as San Francisco’s starter convinced the 49ers to give him a then-NFL-high $27.5 million-per-year deal – albeit a front-loaded, team-friendly pact. Buoyed by a strong run game and resurgent defense, Garoppolo went 15-3 this season and posted a 102.0 passer rating, well above the league average.
Richard Sherman was absolutely roasted by Davante Adams during the NFC Championship Game, prompting former NFL star Darrelle Revis to take a swipe at him on Twitter. After the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers, Sherman hit back.
Here’s the play that caused Revis to take to social media and call out Sherman:
After watching this play, Revis sent the following message out on his Twitter account, ripping Sherman for being a zone cornerback, unlike himself:
For what it’s worth, Sherman would later make the game-sealing interception against Aaron Rodgers.
Well, after Sherman and the 49ers celebrated in the locker room, Sherman of course went onto social media and saw what Revis had posted.
The Baltimore Ravens were unstoppable during the regular season and entered Saturday’s divisional round matchup with the Tennessee Titans as 9.5-point favorites. Instead of continuing to march toward a championship, the Ravens were stunned at home by an impressive Titans team that is getting red hot at the right time.
Tennessee jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, silencing the shocked crowd at M&T Bank Stadium. It only got more lopsided in the second half, as the Titans rode their defense and a supercharged Derrick Henry to victory, winning 28-12.
These were the biggest winners and losers from the Titans’ absolutely dominant victory over the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Winner: King Henry, we bow before your greatness
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Derrick Henry was a major reason why the Titans reached the divisional round in the first place. He rumbled for more than 200 yards from scrimmage last weekend to spark the win. On Saturday night in Baltimore, it was Henry once again serving as the engine that drove the Titans to victory.
It’s going to be a long offseason for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. A lock to win the league MVP trophy after a record-breaking regular season, Jackson put up a stinker of a performance in the divisional round.
Jackson threw 36 touchdown passes (leading the league) and just six interceptions all year.
On Saturday night against the Titans, he tossed two interceptions and lost a fumble. Jackson looked bewildered much of the night as the Titans utilized zone schemes and timely blitzes to confuse the second-year quarterback.
While he did rack up 143 yards on the ground, Jackson struggled in the pocket as a passer and will now have to listen to his naysayers say “I told you so” for the next year or so until he gets another shot to change the narrative in the playoffs.
The entire Tennessee defense deserves a huge gold star for the job it did against the highest-powered regular-season offense in the NFL. But it’s particularly noteworthy that big defensive tackle Jurrell Casey had such a big impact on the game, and young Lamar Jackson.
Defensive tackles who can generate pressure up the middle are rare and highly valued. That’s exactly what Casey was able to do Saturday night against the Ravens. He led all defenders in the game with two sacks of Jackson, who’s hard to bring down. Casey was also instrumental in helping the Titans stuff Jackson twice on fourth down.
Because Henry was so effective pounding the rock, the Titans didn’t throw the ball much Saturday night against the Ravens. Ryan Tannehill attempted only 14 passes, garnering 88 yards. But early in the second quarter, up by a touchdown, he dropped an absolute dime as Kalif Raymond roasted First-team All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Raymond burned Humphrey on a slick double move, turning the cornerback to the sideline before darting back to the post (watch here). Tannehill dropped it into a bucket and the Titans took a commanding 14-0 lead that ultimately was the definitive moment in the game.
In 1967, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs to become the NFL’s first ever Super Bowl Champion. Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, and Max McGee combined to form one of the deadliest trio in Super Bowl history as they beat up the Chiefs, along with a dominate Packers defense, to win 35-10.
That was just the beginning.
Since the Packers victory in 1967, 20 teams have won the Lombardi. Only four teams have never even been to the big show. (Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions)
Can you imagine what the lineup would look like if you examined every team from every Super Bowl and built the perfect team? Who would make the cut?
We are going to start with the Head Coach because what good is a lineup if you have no one calling the plays and managing the sidelines? We’re also going to do our best to avoid naming Patriots to the team because screw those guys.
Head Coach – Vince Lombardi, Packers
Super Bowls – 2 (I, II)
NFL Championships – 4 (1956, 1961, 1962, 1965)
We could spit out facts and stats to prove the point we want to make. But that is just plain easy.
Ask yourself this question instead, who is the Super Bowl trophy named after?
QB – Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers
Championships – 4 (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV)
MVPs – 3 (XVI, XIX, XXIV)
Passer Rating – 127.83 (SB Record)
Passing Yards – 1,142
Passing TDs – 11 (SB Record)
INTs – 0 (SB Record)
Rushing TDs – 2
There has never been a more efficient player in Super Bowl history than Joe Montana. He is the definition of winning. He led the 49ers to the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons from 1982 to 1991. During those ten years, he won 4 Super Bowl’s, 3 Super Bowl MVPs (Record), and led the 49ers to a come from behind win over the Bengals with a 10 yard TD pass to John Taylor, otherwise known as “The Catch”. Selecting Montana gives us the added bonus of pissing off Tom Brady fans.
RB – Franco Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
Championships – 4 (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
MVPs – 1 (IX)
Rushing Attempts – 101 (SB Record)
Rushing Yards – 354 (SB Record)
Rushing TDs – 4
He was a bruising back standing over six feet tall and weighing north of 225 pounds. He was the reason Pittsburgh won their first ever playoff game thanks to one of the most amazing plays of all time, “The Immaculate Reception”. It was not only his catch and score that led Pittsburgh to the victory, he had 160 total yards including the only Steeler touchdown of the day. He would later be a part of a Pittsburgh team that won four Super Bowls in six seasons, an NFL record.
RB – Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys
Championships – 3 (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX)
MVPs – 1 (XXVIII)
Rushing Yards – 289
Rushing TDs – 5 (SB Record)
We have a chance to build the perfect roster of Super Bowl champions and Emmitt Smith falls into our laps? The greatest NFL RB of all time owns the NFL record for most career rushing yards, rushing TDs, and most 100 yard rushing games. He played in 3 Super Bowls and ran for over 100 yards twice. The argument shouldn’t be whether or not he makes the team, it should be whether or not we need a second RB.
Obviously no one is expecting AJ McCarron to replace Andy Dalton’s production this year, but he will need to replace at least some of it in order for the Bengals to go very far in January.
However, Dalton’s injury does put the AFC in a bit of a unique situation in that going into week 15 of the NFL season, three of the AFC’s top four seeded teams (Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, and theDenver Broncos) are currently playing with backup quarterbacks. Additionally, the current sixth-seeded New York Jets have had the same quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) start every game this season, but he only solidified the starting position following Geno Smith’s freak preseason injury.
Even if Andy Dalton and Peyton Manning had not gotten hurt this season, it is still likely that the Patriots would be the current favorites to win the AFC championship. At the same time, not even the Patriots are a sure thing in the playoffs every year, and even if the Bengals and Broncos start the playoffs with McCarron and Brock Osweiler taking snaps, may not be completely unheard of for one of those teams to sneak their way into the Super Bowl (especially given how closely the air pressure of game balls will be monitored should the AFC championship game again take place in Foxboro).
Going back the last twenty years, exactly how many teams have reached the Super Bowl with the same quarterback starting each game in the regular season?
There are two undeniable and hard truths regarding Super Bowls: none of them has ever reached overtime, and no home team has ever been able to host the game. Even while we are dealing with a smallish sample of only 49 games so far, the fact that we haven’t seen any of these occurrences fascinates me to no end, especially the latter part.
With the San Francisco 49ers out of playoff contention and starting a rebuilding project (presumably with a new quarterback), again it means that the team hosting the Super Bowl won’t be a part of the festivities for the 50th straight year. In many ways, the announcement of a city hosting the Super Bowl has almost meant a death sentence for its franchise.
The first couple of decades of Super Bowls were rotated mostly among a fixated set of fair-weather stadiums and domes, with teams like the Dolphins, Saints, and Rams never being a serious threat to contend. The end of the 80’s brought upon a new era for the NFL, as the league started a period of expansion and the construction of new stadiums, which allowed for new locales to be able to host the ultimate event.
In more recent times, even controversial new stadiums have been immediately selected for a Super Bowl after completing construction, as it has become a tradition for the NFL as a way to boost its brand. But even as the money has rolled in for the city and its corresponding franchise, they probably would have traded it all for a chance at winning a championship.
As we can see from the table below, the teams that have hosted the Super Bowl since Super Bowl XXV have been mostly terrible on that same year:
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