We haven’t even mentioned that Andy Reid can win the big one. Winning his 222nd NFL game on 2-2-20, and even pilfering a play from Kyle Shanahan’s playbook in the process (more about that later), the Chiefs actually played a perfect game, for them. This is why:
• They were behind by double-digits. KC rallied from 0-24 to beat Houston in the AFC divisional round, 7-17 to beat Tennessee in the AFC Championship Game, and 10-20 Sunday night in the Super Bowl. The difference this time: The first two deficits were in the first half. The Chiefs trailed the Niners by 10 with eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
• Reid’s play-design and play-calling, his best traits, were huge. Not just on “Wasp,” but on several back-and-forths on the sidelines with Mahomes, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Kafka. “That’s one of the advantages of sitting over there with [Mahomes],” Reid said. “You get a feel for what he likes.” All the coaches, and Mahomes, liked the play Shanahan first ran when he was offensive coordinator in Washington in 2010, overloading the offensive line with an extra receiver in a tight formation, and then having the receiver (in this case Sammy Watkins) leak out to an open seam up the left side. Mahomes to Watkins, gain of 28. Every week, Reid has his offensive staff draw up plays on the white board in his office, and in preparing for this game, that’s one of the plays they loved. In fairness, Shanahan called it first, but many teams call it now. And it came back to bite Shanahan on Sunday, on a second-quarter Chiefs field goal.
• Mahomes did what great quarterbacks do and what he’s done so often since being drafted 10th overall in 2017: He forgot the bad plays, fast. He threw the first two picks of his postseason life on consecutive series in the second half. One: A ridiculous throw right into the arms of Niners linebacker Fred Warner in Niner territory. Two: He threw a pass behind Hill, it was tipped, and it was picked. When I asked him about those at his locker, a couple of Chiefs officials shielding him from a small crowd, the look on his face was more embarrassment than anything else. Right here, the way this game turned reminded me of Russell Wilson in the 2014 NFC Championship Game. Remember? Wilson threw four picks to put Seattle in a huge hole against Green Bay, then led two TD drives to send the game to overtime, and won it with a laser touchdown throw to Jermaine Kearse. Wilson’s indomitable. Mahomes is getting to be on that level too, with three touchdown drives in the last half of the last quarter of the season.
“We got MVPat on our side!” defensive tackle Chris Jones crowed. “We don’t care if he throws a damn interception. He always comes back.”
The rest of the world . . . well, maybe we all weren’t so sure. This being a night game, and this column being ridiculously long, much has to be done as the game is in progress. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Niners up 20-10, Mahomes threw his second straight interception, and I went to the Award Section of the column. In the GOAT OF THE WEEK section, I typed in Mahomes’ name and wrote: “A bummer of a game—certainly the worst big game he’s played in his three NFL seasons—for the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL. With no indication that such a stinker was coming.”
Ooops. Good thing there’s a delete button on this laptop.
But when I got a few minutes with Mahomes post-game, he sounded like he’d have given himself GOAT OF THE WEEK if, in some other life, he’d been a sports writer with a silly column. When he talked about the interceptions, he was clearly pained.
“The first one,” Mahomes said, “was horrible. I tried to do too much, stretching the guy [Warner] and trying to make a perfect throw, which I probably should’ve never done. Hit him right between the 5 and the 4. [Warner is number 54.] And then the second one, to be in field-goal range and then to throw a tipped interception . . . I thought that was gonna hurt us a lot more than it did. It was definitely something that made me very sick.”
With 8:53 left in the game, Mahomes trotted out to the huddle. He told the other 10 guys to keep fighting, keep believing. “You gotta believe, 10,” he said to Tyreek Hill, who is number 10. Maybe he did, or maybe he didn’t. But if the Chiefs were to come back, they’d need Hill’s speed and the greatest moves of any receiver in football.
On second-and-15 from the KC 35-yard line, Mahomes underthrew Hill on a 16-yard stop route up the right seam. Like, really underthrew him. Hill dove for it and it was ruled a good catch . . . but at the last second, Shanahan threw the challenge flag. He won the challenge. Third-and-15 now.
Earlier in the half, in those sideline confabs you always see Reid having with Mahomes (and Bieniemy and Kafka), Mahomes told Reid he loved Wasp. “Yeah, yeah,” Mahomes told me. “I just wanted to run it to get it out there and give Tyreek a chance to make a play. How they were playing, I knew it would be Tyreek one on one with the safety.”
This was the same play Mahomes used in the AFC Championship Game last year. The Patriots blanketed Hill, holding him to one catch for 42 yards. That one catch came on the Wasp play. On the play, KC uses a three-by-one formation. Wideout Sammy Watkins is wide left, Hill inside, and Travis Kelce inside of Hill. On the right side is backup tight end Blake Bell. So the Chiefs ran the play in the first half. “A set-up,” Kafka the quarterback coach said. Deep safety Jimmie Ward, in the first half, saw Hill run right at him. And so midway through the fourth quarter, with the same play-call and same formation, Ward obviously assumed Hill was coming at him again. With Watkins running a short in-cut and Kelce idling through the middle to attract attention, Hill sprinted at Ward.
Then Hill cut to the corner. Ward wasn’t ready for that.
The line of scrimmage was the Chiefs’ 35. Mahomes, who’d taken a Pistol snap at his 30, ambled back to the 22 (“The line had to give me a bunch of time, and those guys did,” Mahomes said, correctly). Meanwhile, Hill was floating into a spot around the 25-yard line of the Niners, absolutely wide open. San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will have nightmares about this play that ruined his heretofore superb defensive plan. From the Chiefs 22 to the Niners 22, that’s how far this ball traveled—56 yards in the air. And it landed right on Hill, with Ward arriving a half-second too late. Gain of 44.
That led to a rollout one-yard TD pass to Kelce. And when Jimmy Garoppolo couldn’t come up with a drive on the ensuing Niners possession, Mahomes responded with a 65-yard drive in two-and-a-half minutes to take the lead. Damien Williams scored the last two TDs for the Chiefs, and he won the battle of undrafted running backs: Williams, 104 yards and two scores to Raheem Mostert’s 58 yards and one touchdown run.
This was a perfect game for the Chiefs not because they played a perfect game. It’s because the game illustrated everything Reid has built in Kansas City. He has the quarterback who, though just 24, has become a part of the decision-making process. Reid built a team that trusts he’ll put them in the best position to win. He built a team that’s all-for-one, one-for-all; even after this game, he was still harkening back 54 weeks, to the AFC title game loss to New England, when the departed Dee Ford jumped offside, enabling the Patriots to have life late. “It wasn’t Dee Ford,” Reid said. “It was all of us. We were all four inches off.” That kind of stuff is corny and all, but his players know it’s Reid. The same way he deflects blame for the Donovan McNabb Super Bowl faux pas slow-play 15 years ago is the way he takes on the heavy stuff to this day.
“Can I tell him the practice story?” Kansas City medical czar and longtime Reid confidant Rick Burkholder said in Reid’s office post-game.
“Go ahead,” Reid said.
“So it’s 10 degrees outside the Wednesday before the [AFC title game], and Andy tells the team practice would be outside,” Burkholder said. “They don’t flinch. They figured there must be a reason for it, I guess.”
“I paused after telling them,” Reid told me, “and nobody gasped.”
“What’d you do? Practice inside?” I asked.
“Yeah, like always,” Reid said.
“The point is, they want to win it for him, and he wants to win it for everybody else,” Burkholder said.