MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Chiefs came oh so close to getting to the Super Bowl last year, going toe-to-toe with the five-time champion Patriots before succumbing in overtime in the AFC Championship Game. Two weeks later, they watched the Patriots win yet another title.
But this time, thanks to more magic from Patrick Mahomes and several much-needed changes on defense — including the hiring of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo — Kansas City took the next step and won it all.
The Chiefs’ 31-20 victory over the 49ers on Sunday in Super Bowl LIV was Spagnuolo’s second championship as a defensive coordinator. The first was with the Giants in Super Bowl XLII after the 2007 season. In each case, it was his first year with the team.
Mahomes was the star, but if not for the Chiefs’ resurgent defense, he might never have been in position to lead his team’s fourth-quarter comeback.
“We prepared the right way,” said safety Tyrann Mathieu, who was signed this season as a replacement for longtime Chiefs safety Eric Berry. “We had to just believe in each other.’’
They believed, right up to the end, when they needed to believe the most.
With Mahomes struggling in the third quarter, throwing two interceptions, the 49ers built a 20-10 lead. But the Chiefs didn’t allow another point, giving Mahomes the chance to rally the team. And what a rally he produced, throwing two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to win Super Bowl MVP honors.
“I felt like in that last quarter, we knew it was getting tight,” Mathieu said. “Defensively, in order to win this game, we knew we were going to have to step up and make some plays, and we were able to do that.”
Defensive end Frank Clark — another player brought in by the Chiefs to provide a pass rush in the absence of Dee Ford, who was traded to the 49ers, and Justin Houston, who was released and signed by the Colts — was another big contributor. His fourth-down sack of Garoppolo in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter all but sealed the win.
“Fourth quarter, we called on the defense and we got the job done,” he said. “I believe that’s been the third consecutive game where we called on the defense to bounce back. It looked rocky. It looked like Pat was having a little rough one at first. But you know Pat Mahomes. Like I’ve been saying all year, I’ll take that quarterback over any quarterback. There’s none like him.”
Clark said his sack was the culmination of a game-long effort to remain disciplined against Garoppolo.
“We had been working and working and Jimmy does a great job at getting the ball out early,” Clark said. “So you knew coming into the game it was going to be hard. At the end of the day, we bent down when it was time. I knew we bent a little bit, but we didn’t break.”
Bashaud Breeland, who intercepted Garoppolo in the first half, said it was critical for the defense to remain stout.
“The offense always is going to have explosive plays,” he said. “The defense has to keep it going until the offense gets it going. We did that tonight. We came together as a team. We just did what we had to do.”
The Chiefs held Garoppolo to 219 passing yards and a 69.2 rating. Defensive back Kendall Fuller added a fourth-quarter interception to finish things off.
“I think Coach Spags made our goals real clear, and I think for the most part, we were able to accomplish those goals,” Mathieu said. “I think our mindset is to just finish the game. Spags, that’s all he preaches — to never relax, to never get comfortable until the game is over.”