Sunday, February 25, 2024
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Super Bowl 58 analysis: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs are inevitable. So was 49ers’ heartbreak

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🏆 Good morning to everyone but especially …

PATRICK MAHOMES AND THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Everything was going wrong. Patrick Mahomes had been picked off, ending the third-longest interception-free streak in playoff history. Travis Kelce had thrown a shocking tantrum aimed at Andy Reid. Isiah Pacheco had fumbled away their best opportunity. The offensive line was overwhelmed.

Then came Mahomes. Then came Kelce. Then — for the second straight year and third time in five years — came a Super Bowl title for the Kansas City Chiefs. Mahomes found Mecole Hardman in overtime to walk off the 49ers, 25-22, in yet another remarkable comeback for a quarterback and team that seem inevitable.

They’re the first back-to-back champions since the 2003-04 Patriots, and these Chiefs have dynasty written all over them, much like those Patriots did.

It certainly wasn’t easy. Through their first nine drives, the Chiefs only had six points. On their final four, they had 19 — two touchdowns, two field goals. As each possession became more important, Mahomes raised his game.

  • Given a gift — a muffed punt — late in the third quarter, Mahomes hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a touchdown on the next play. The Chiefs led, 13-10.
  • After a San Francisco touchdown, Mahomes led a field goal drive to tie things at 16.
  • After a San Francisco field goal, Mahomes led another field goal drive — including a crucial 22-yard completion to Kelce on third-and-7 — to force overtime.
  • After a San Francisco field goal to take the lead in overtime, Mahomes produced his latest, greatest masterpiece: 13 plays and 75 yards, capped by the 3-yard touchdown to Hardman, whose up-and-down season ended on the highest of high notes, emblematic of the Chiefs’ season as a whole. On that game-winning drive, Mahomes also had an 8-yard run on fourth-and-1, a 13-yard completion to Rashee Rice on third-and-6 and a 19-yard scramble on third-and-1.

Mahomes had 210 yards passing and 59 yards rushing after halftime. He’s the only player to have 200+ yards passing and 50+ yard rushing after halftime of a playoff game since the 1970 merger. Overall, it’s a top-five Super Bowl quarterback performance all-time, per Bryan DeArdo’s rankings.

If it feels like déjà vu … it is. I put a jaw-dropping stat in last year’s Super Bowl newsletter, and now it’s time to update it. Since Mahomes became the Chiefs’ full time starter in 2018 …

  • He is 17-14 (.548 win pct) in games his team trails by double digits.
  • All other quarterbacks are 224-1202-5 (.158 win pct) in games their team trails by double digits.

I would call the comeback miraculous, but with Mahomes, it’s just another game. He joins Tom Brady and Joe Montana as the only players with three Super Bowl MVPs. His playoff record list is growing at an unfathomable rate. He’s the best player I’ve ever watched, and I’m not alone, either.

While Mahomes surged late, it was that excellent defense that kept things within striking distance. It bent but didn’t break in the first half, dominated in the third as the offense finally found its footing, and then got back to bending but not breaking until Mahomes broke the 49ers’ hearts. This was nothing new, writes Jared Dubin.

  • Dubin: “After the game, from the podium, Reid said his defense played ‘out of their mind’ on Sunday night. In previous years, with previous iterations of this defense, that might have been accurate. But this year, with this defense, that couldn’t be further from the truth. This group just did what it had been doing all year long — standard operating procedure.”

The Chiefs as a whole are nothing new, either. They are magnificent, and while you don’t have to like it — many don’t — you ought to appreciate it. Singular forces like Mahomes don’t come around often, regardless of sport. Here’s more on the triumph:

😃 Honorable mentions

💔 And not such a good morning for …

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THE SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs have nine lives every game. The 49ers have taken eight of them in two different Super Bowls … and fallen short of that elusive ninth both times in heartbreaking fashion.

That ninth life, it seems, is perfection (or at least something very close to it), and the 49ers were the first to admit they were far from perfect. Here are the things that the 49ers will rue:

  • Christian McCaffrey was phenomenal … but also lost a fumble on the opening drive. Later, a punt hitting Darrell Luter Jr. on the foot resulted in a turnover that sparked Kansas City.
  • Brock Purdy was solid, but he missed some open guys — including Jauan Jennings for a potential touchdown on the 49ers’ final offensive play. Yes, his misses were generally due to pressure, but he’ll still want them back.
  • Overall, the 49ers reached Kansas City territory on seven different drives. They came away with just 19 points and had two empty possessions: the McCaffrey fumble and a three-and-out after Ji’Ayir Brown picked off Mahomes. In retrospect, not taking advantage of that turnover was especially backbreaking, as Mahomes was nearly perfect afterward.
  • Some were just unfortunate and uncontrollable: Dre Greenlaw tore his Achilles in a freak injury while running onto the field. Of Kelce’s 93 yards receiving, 92 came after that injury.
  • Jake Moody was terrific. He hit two field goals from 50+ yards and another from 27. He also had an extra point blocked. It loomed large as the Chiefs were able to tie the game with a field goal on the ensuing drive.
  • The defense — so good for so long — allowed four straight scoring drives to end the game
  • Kyle Shanahan made what I think was the right call taking the ball first in overtime. It just didn’t work out.

There’s a general theme here: The performance the 49ers put together beats any team not quarterbacked by Patrick Mahomes. But Mahomes is a different beast. He’s the boogeyman. And until the 49ers take all nine lives, they’ll continue to have questions, feel heartbreak and, ultimately, fall short of that Super Bowl ring.

🎤 Usher crushes Super Bowl halftime show

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Yeah! Yeah! … Yeah! Yeah! … There has been a history of solid halftime shows, but last night’s was awesome. Usher did not disappoint, bringing out plenty of friends along the way.

The setlist had plenty of bangers, but one song — and one guest — in particular elevated the show, writes Cody Benjamin.

  • Benjamin: “Everyone and their mother watched this halftime show just to get to “Yeah!” And Ludacris’ arrival for the closing verse, complete with an Afro and shoulder-padded outfit, shut the club down, evoking the loudest roars of the performance. Teamed up with Usher and Lil Jon, he put a thunderous cap on the halftime event, just as fake Usher-marked dollar bills rained across the stadium.”

And that wasn’t the only good news for Usher: He and girlfriend Jennifer Goicoechea reportedly obtained a marriage license.

And as for that other annual form of entertainment — the commercials — yeah, we ranked the top 10 Super Bowl commercials, from the funny ones (State Farm, BMW and Dunkin’) to heart-warrming (Kia, NFL and Google Pixel).

🏀 College basketball recap: Iowa women, Kentucky men upset

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We’re under five weeks until Selection Sunday, and with the NFL over, it’s time to start studying for your bracket.

No. 2 Iowa star Caitlin Clark had history on her mind Sunday, but Nebraska ended up making it. The Cornhuskers overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit — holding Clark scoreless in the process — to stun the Hawkeyes, 82-79It ties the highest-ranked win in program history.

Clark entered 39 points short of passing Kelsey Plum‘s Division-I scoring record and had 31 through three quarters. But she missed all six of her shots in the fourth quarter.

No. 1 South Carolina didn’t suffer the same upset fate. The Gamecocks throttled No. 11 UConn83-65, to remain undefeated. Even without star Kamilla Cardoso (national team duty), South Carolina cruised, led by Te-Hina Paopao‘s 21 points.

On the men’s side, we got another reminder on Saturday of why No. 17 Kentucky is guaranteed to give you headaches. Unranked Gonzaga beat the Wildcats, 89-85, at Rupp Arena. It’s a huge win for the Bulldogs, who are on the bubble. For the Wildcats, it’s another low in a season that’s becoming full of them: They’ve lost three straight home games for the first time since 1966 — 10 years before Rupp Arena opened.

Veteran bigs Graham Ike (23 points) and Anton Watson (17 points) came through late, and Nolan Hickman (17 points) was solid throughout. The Zags still have work to do, notes chief Bracketologist Jerry Palm, but Saturday certainly didn’t hurt.

But it did hurt Kentucky. The offense is excellent, but the defense is awful. Only one major-conference team — DePaul (3-20 record) — allows more points per game. Kentucky got an “F” in Kyle Boone’s weekly grades.

For more on the men’s side:

🏈 Chip Kelly leaves UCLA for Ohio State OC job in whirlwind weekend

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The college football coaching carousel never truly stops. UCLA head coach Chip Kelly left the Bruins to become Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, replacing Bill O’Brien, who lasted a few weeks. How did we get here? Great question.

Now UCLA needs a coach. Will Backus has potential replacement options, but it’s undoubtedly a tough position as the Bruins head to the Big Ten. Furthermore, Kelly leaving a head-coaching job for a coordinator job in the same conference reveals the state of the sport, writes Tom Fornelli.

  • Fornelli: “When Kelly took the UCLA job, there wasn’t a transfer portal. There wasn’t NIL. There weren’t conference games against Rutgers. All of those things exist now, and yes, there are a lot of football coaches who don’t enjoy this new college football landscape. The complaints about being more of a cat wrangler than a football coach are well-founded.”

Dennis Dodd says Kelly leaving allows UCLA to reset ahead of its big (B1G) move.

Elsewhere on the coaching front …

  • The Seahawks hired Ryan Grubb as offensive coordinator. Grubb had followed Kalen DeBoer from Washington to Alabama, and now DeBoer has a dilemma, David Cobb writes.
  • Michigan hired Wink Martindale as defensive coordinator.

Marathon world record holder Kelvin Kiptum dies in car accident

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Kelvin Kiptum, who set the marathon world record (2:00:35) at the Chicago Marathon in October 2023, died in a car accident Sunday night in Kenya. He was 24.

Kiptum’s coach, Gervais Hakizimana, also died, and another passenger in the vehicle sustained serious injuries.

Authorities said Kiptum lost control of his vehicle, which went into a ditch and collided with a tree.

Kiptum, whose record was ratified by World Athletics just days ago, planned to run in Rotterdam in April with the goal of becoming the first person to break two hours in the marathon.

📺 What we’re watching Monday

🏀 Wake Forest at No. 9 Duke (M), 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Nuggets at Bucks, 8 p.m. on NBA TV
🏀 No. 4 Kansas at No. 23 Texas Tech (M), 9 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Arizona at No. 10 USC (W), 9 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 Timberwolves at Clippers, 10:30 p.m. on NBA TV

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