The 49ers Couldn’t Outrun The Devils
12:01 AM EST on February 12, 2024
Football is too hard, and its players suffer too much, to say that neither team deserved to win a particular game. But the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers spent a few hours on Sunday trying to turn Super Bowl 58 into exactly that sort of game.
The game was still fun to watch. It’s hard not to be entertained by a Super Bowl that’s decided in overtime. When Patrick Mahomes capped off one of his vintage game-winning drives with a touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman Jr. that gave the Chiefs a 25-22 win and back-to-back Super Bowls, the game finally felt it had escaped its dire beginnings. The first half, which ended with the 49ers up 10-3 and everyone watching with the impression that the game had been cursed by the Devil himself, was defined by the Chiefs repeatedly trying to give the game away and the 49ers failing to take them up on their offer. The football didn't get much better as the second half started: Patrick Mahomes threw an ugly interception on the second play of the Chiefs’ opening drive, and five of the next six possessions ended in punts. With the 49ers leading 10-6 and the Devil perhaps realizing that nobody was going to score another touchdown without his direct intervention, the Chiefs became the beneficiaries of a play dripping with Black Magic. After going three-and-out with 2:42 left to play in the third quarter, the Chiefs punted a ball that dropped out of the sky and landed perfectly on the heel of an unaware 49ers blocker.
The Chiefs recovered that muffed punt and took over on the 49ers’ 16-yard line. Mahomes immediately threw a touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling that put the Chiefs up 13-10.
The 49ers responded to that heinous stroke of misfortune by putting together their second competent drive of the game, going 75 yards on 12 plays. The drive ended with Jauan Jennings dancing his way into the end zone and, for a brief moment, making possible a future in which he would become the Super Bowl MVP. That vision was darkened almost immediately, when rookie kicker Jake Moody blasted the extra-point attempt right into the rising hand of the Chiefs’ Leo Chenal, which left the Niners clinging to a three-point lead rather than sitting pretty with a four-point cushion. That lost point hung over the next three drives, each ending in field goals that took the game into overtime with the scored tied at 19.
And that is where the the 49ers had to confront a second Devil, in the form of Patrick Mahomes. Brock Purdy, whose status and ability remains just as maddeningly difficult to pin down as ever, led the 49ers on a 13-play, 66-yard opening drive that came up just short of a touchdown after a perfectly timed blitz prevented Purdy from converting a third-and-4 at Kansas City’s nine-yard line. A Niners’ field goal left Mahomes and the Chiefs with the chance to drive for the winning touchdown, and that’s exactly what they did. It was then, nearly five full quarters into a truly odd and sloppy Super Bowl, that Mahomes once again became undeniable. He completed all eight of his passes on the game-winning drive, which went 75 yards in just over seven minutes. He converted a fourth-and-1 with a designed run off the tackle; he hit Rashee Rice with a perfect ball on third-and-6; he scrambled right up the middle for 19 yards on a third-and-1; he ended it with quick strike to Hardman in the end zone:
Every Super Bowl result offers its own set of lessons, and there are plenty to be found in this one. But here’s the biggest: Nobody can ever truly control an entire football game. The 49ers’ defense spent the majority of this game flying around the field and fucking up the Chiefs’ offense, Purdy made the big throws when he needed them, and Christian McCaffrey was the best player on the field by a fair margin. San Francisco nearly controlled this game long enough and well enough to win it, but they were undone by the few moments of raw, random absurdity that football is designed to produce. If a punt doesn’t miraculously fall out of the sky and glance off a man’s foot, the 49ers are probably Super Bowl champions right now. If that extra point doesn’t get blocked, the game never makes it to overtime and Mahomes is never allowed to finally overwhelm the defense that had been tormenting him all night.
That’s just how football works. The game throws a bunch of awful and maddening shit at you, and you try to control it for as long as you can. The 49ers held their grip for a while, but it wasn’t enough. When Patrick Mahomes finally got his hands on the proceedings, it was more than enough.