MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The question the San Francisco defensive backs will spend the offseason asking themselves was probably the same one going through the mind of Patrick Mahomes in the split second that changed the Super Bowl on Sunday.
How did Tyreek Hill get that open?
Stopped up for more than three quarters by a Niners defense that didn’t give up big plays this season, Mahomes and the Chiefs finally found their opening. It was a 44-yard pass to Hill, the small-and-speedy wide receiver who got behind not one, not two, but three defenders on third-and-15 and with KC’s hopes looking bleak in the fourth quarter.
That was the turning point in Kansas City’s 31-20 victory, the key to its 21-point fourth quarter and the trigger point in the Chiefs third straight comeback from a double-digit deficit in this year’s playoffs.
“Coach Reid told me … to keep firing, keep believing in your eyes and go for it,” Mahomes said.
Hard to imagine he could believe his eyes when he saw Hill so wide-open.
The 49ers came in having allowed only eight completions this season on passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield — the fewest of any team in the NFL in 14 seasons. For more than 53 minutes in this one, they were living up to the resume.
Harassing Mahomes in the backfield, never letting him get free on the edges, let alone wind up for a big throw, the Niners were in total control.
They forced two Mahomes picks — the first two of his postseason career — and celebrated each time by posing for fake photos in the end zone. They took a 20-10 lead that felt even bigger.
Trailing by 10, Mahomes threw a pair of incompletions, including one that was initially ruled a catch by Hill but was overturned on review. It was third-and-15 at the 35; one more stop would’ve pretty much brought an end to the game.
Mahomes backpedaled 13 yards after the snap, looked downfield, then to his left, and heaved his longest throw of the evening. Hill stopped in his tracks and cradled it in. Only then did three Niners — Emmanuel Moseley, K’Waun Williams and Fred Warner — swarm back to tackle him at the 21.
Four plays later, the Chiefs had cut the deficit to three, but the San Francisco defense was stunned and never overcame it.
After a three-and-out, Sammy Watkins caught a 38-yard pass, beating Richard Sherman, no less, to set up the go-ahead score.
Kansas City got the ball back again once more, and Damian Williams broke a 38-yard run for the last score.
In the span of less than 8 minutes, the 10-point deficit became an 11-point lead — and on the NFL’s 100th a