Playoffs

Super Bowl LIV Cooldown

Whoa.  Super Bowl LIV was a doozy.  The Super Bowl can be unpredictable.  At least we nailed the Chiefs final score at 31…

First things first.  I’m not going to win a popularity contest for this, but we all know that Patrick Mahomes probably shouldn’t have been the MVP of that game. 

Yes, it’s exceedingly hard to give the Super Bowl LIV MVP to anyone that’s not a quarterback, but Mahomes was flat out stymied for three quarters before coming alive in the fourth.  Late comebacks are great, but that Chiefs defense should be the real hero here. They kept it close and got the ball back for him each and every time with the game on the line as the Chiefs turned this one around with twenty-one unanswered points.  No, there wasn’t one dominant player on that side of the ball that we can single out, and that’s why Mahomes is hanging out with Mickey, Minnie and Goofy.

Second, it’s woefully unfair, but Kyle Shanahan now owns the two worst collapses in Super Bowl history.

An insane twenty-five points to New England, and now ten points to the Chiefs, though the Niners somehow surrendered twenty-one points in the fourth quarter.  Shanahan’s judgement will be scrutinized, but I think both collapses share one common element. In both losses, Shanahan went away from his team’s strength in an attempt to burn clock and fool the opposing coach.

There’s only one problem, and it’s a doozy.

In both instances, Shanahan tried to go against conventional wisdom, moving away from what was working, in a predicable scenario, against a vastly more experienced, Hall-of-Fame-bound head coach.  Both opposing coaches simply took what was handed to them and let their defenses create turnovers and easy stops. Never was Shanahan’s desire to be clever more evident than a third and ten late in the fourth, trailing by just four points. Instead of doing what the Niners have done all year in this scenario, hitting Kittle in the flat, Shanahan and Garoppolo went for broke and attempted what was essentially a Hail Mary that fell five yards in front of a double-covered Emmanuel Sanders just steps outside of the end zone. 

It made no sense for a handful of reasons.

1) Sanders isn’t the fastest Niners receiver, and it isn’t close. That’s Deebo Samuel, who was having an MVP-type game if San Francisco had won. If you’re going to draw up a go route and ask someone to go get the ball, it shouldn’t have been Sanders.

2) It was four down territory and the Chiefs were giving Kittle cushion. He could have easily gotten 6-7 yards, minimum, making for a manageable fourth down. Instead, Jimmy G took a nine-yard sack on the ensuing fourth and ten.  

There’s one other factor at play in both of Shanahan’s team’s collapses, and it’s this.  Both his Falcons and the Niners simply ran out of steam against a team that was prepared to play for sixty minutes, or more if needed.  In the case of the Falcons, you could see the frenetic pace of the defense was wearing all of their elite players down against a Patriots team that had been there before.  In this Super Bowl, is was the clock of Father Time, and the knowledge that the superior speed of Kansas City would eventually prevail. San Francisco’s les athletic backs wouldn’t be able to corral the Chiefs receiving corps forever. 

So, it’s back to the drawing board for a San Francisco team that, frankly, was a year or two ahead of their own schedule. They’ll have some interesting questions to answer in the offseason and need to find a way to build on this season’s success.  I’m not as dramatic as some, calling for an end to the Jimmy G era too early, but I do think Shanahan should think about how he’s using his young quarterback and better set him up for success.  

Before Chiefs fans go crazy on me, I’m not saying that this was just sort of crazy choke job by Shanahan and the Niners and the Chiefs weren’t worthy. 

They certainly were.

The Chiefs came from at least ten points back in each of their playoff wins this season. That’s incredible if you ask me. It speaks to a resilience and a cohesiveness that we don’t always see in the NFL.  Many teams fall apart when game plans don’t work early on. The Chiefs haven’t. What’s even more telling? In all three of these playoff games, when they trailed by double digits at some point, Kansas City ended up running away with the thing.  They beat Houston by twenty after trailing by twenty-four. They bested both Tennessee and San Francisco by eleven after trailing by ten. Not a single game ended up being an overtime thriller, or even a one possession game.  

At the end of the day, for K.C., it’s not about IF they can flip the switch.  It’s about WHEN they finally start to click. When they do, lookout. Patrick Mahomes had probably the worst game of his career, period, and they still won the Super Bowl against a top-three-ranked defense by more than a touchdown. They’ll just need to recover from one of the coldest victory parades in history and get ready to do it all again next season.  

I’m certain there will be plenty to talk about in the interim.  Will the Chiefs lock up Mahomes before he gets more expensive? Will Watkins stay, or become a salary cap casualty?  What about the Chiefs relatively large cast of free agents this offseason?  

Stay tuned, because the Super Bowl is just the beginning…

For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.

Image Source: USA Today

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