Chiefs’ Super Bowl Win in Amazing Comeback Defined the Limits of Magic — For the NFL and Themselves

    Neither the Kansas City Chiefs nor the NFL could make their comeback Super Bowl win as magical as they wanted it to be. That made it beautiful.

    GLENDALE, Ariz. – Arizona is the home to the impossible. Some of the greatest Super Bowls of all time were executed in Arizona. The last two Super Bowls were interruptions in dynasties — all-time moments for already-successful teams who stumbled at the last step.

    This time, the Kansas City Chiefs overtook the Philadelphia Eagles to establish themselves as a true dynasty for the 2020s with an end-of-game field goal to give the Chiefs the win 38-35. It turned out to be one of the greatest Super Bowls we’ve ever seen.

    That a massive event — one that spanned a week over the course of a 20-mile valley in Northern Arizona from Tempe to Glendale — came down to a contact area just two inches large on a football kicked only 27 yards seems appropriate.

    Measuring the reality of the game against the majesty of the moment seems almost impossible. While media members negotiate off-book deals with Uber drivers and Eagles fans chanted E-A-G-L-E-S at their urinals, the NFL world was treated to an extraordinary halftime show and an incredible quarterback duel.

    Super Bowl 57 Featured 2 of the Best Quarterback Performances Ever

    The best quarterback in the world, and possibly the best in history, secured his legacy with another win, now with two rings on top of his three AFC Championship titles and five appearances in the penultimate game of the season. Patrick Mahomes was phenomenal.

    The best quarterback on the field might have been playing for the other team.

    After the game, head coach Nick Sirianni argued that this was the best he’d seen Jalen Hurts play.

    ”Jalen played the best game I’ve seen him play, and in the two years we’ve been together, he was outstanding.” He said. “I really thought he was in complete control. He did things with his legs in the run game, he did things with his arm in the pass game, made some unbelievable throws, unbelievable reads.

    “I thought he played outstanding,” he said. “That was good for the NFL in the sense that the two best quarterbacks in the NFL played against each other on the biggest stage and the biggest lights, and Jalen played great.”

    It’s hard to argue the point. Hurts became the only player in Super Bowl history to rush for two touchdowns and pass for another. Then, he added another rushing touchdown on top of that, joining Terrell Davis as the only player to rush for three scores in the Super Bowl.

    Hurts also set the Super Bowl rushing record for a quarterback with 70 yards on the ground, exceeding Steve McNair’s total of 64 in Super Bowl XXXIV.

    The fact that his rushing was just an added benefit to his remarkable passing is an even more impressive feat. Hurts threw for 304 yards on 38 attempts with a touchdown and no picks. His eight yards per attempt is already an excellent mark, but it doesn’t account for the incredible tight-window throws, remarkably quick reads, and extraordinary degree of precision he demonstrated.

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    If ever there was a case for another Super Bowl MVP to come from the losing team, this would be it. That would have been apropos given that the only other player to do that, Chuck Howley, was honored before the game as a 2023 inductee to the Hall of Fame.

    It was instead Mahomes who won the award, who more than deserved it. In perhaps a nod to the magic of the moment and an homage to Phil Simms after Super Bowl XXI, Mahomes said he was going to Disney Land, having already experienced Disney World.

    Defenses Played Well Despite High-Scoring Game

    The game would approach the NFL scoring record in a Super Bowl, but fell two points short of Super Bowl XXIX’s 75-point affair between the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers. However, there was a missed Harrison Butker kick from 42 yards that, in theory, would have helped propel the game to the record-breaking point.

    None of this takes away from what turned out to be a high-level defensive performance despite the high-scoring shootout. Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton earned a thunderous scoop-and-score on a Hurts fumble to keep Kansas City in the game in the first half.

    He nearly scored on a second one, this time a pass to Miles Sanders knocked loose by cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, but he didn’t have high hopes for it counting towards his scoring total, saying, “No, I knew that was incomplete.”

    Bolton played lights out and has a fair argument to have been the best player on the Chiefs’ defense, one that needed to do all it could to hold the Eagles back, especially given Philadelphia’s ability to turn short yardage into automatic first downs with their QB sneak package.

    His honesty about the incompletion call was both unusual and typical. Unusual because we don’t see players presuppose a negative outcome, and typical because it wasn’t close to the most honest thing a player said after the game.

    James Bradberry, the astounding Eagles cornerback whose elite play helped push them to the Super Bowl, was called for a holding penalty on 3rd-and-8 from the Eagles’ 15-yard line with 1:54 left in the game. While much of the conversation in the stands and online was about whether it was the right call, Bradberry admitted to anyone who asked that he committed the penalty.

    “It was a holding,” Bradberry said. “I tugged his jersey. I was hoping they would let it slide.”

    That additional first down allowed Kansas City to drain the clock and make the kick even easier for Butker, who hadn’t just missed one earlier in the game — but had been struggling all year. For many people, that penalty ended the game.

    Kansas City Chiefs Won the Super Bowl in the Second Half

    The Chiefs are only the second team to come back down double digits at halftime, the other being the famous 28-3 comeback from the New England Patriots. While quarterbacks rightly deserve their credit for engineering impossible scoring drives to put a comeback on the table, the other half of the equation is a defense that’s tightened up. After giving up 24 points in the first half, they gave up just 11 in the second.

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    For All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones, the difference was in the details. “I think the first half, we had to stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Jones. “[3rd-and-4] — Frank Clark jumps offsides, they get a first down, which led to a touchdown. Second quarter, it’s [4th-and-2] with sneak defense, our nose tackle jumps offsides.

    “It’s fourth down, we’re off to field. In the quarterback draw, I think we more so had self-inflicted wounds that stopped us from being in the lead. We cleaned it up, especially on the D-line part. We were able to clean that up back and tighten up.”

    Lengthy Halftime Was Key

    That halftime change in play was enormous. For Jones, the extra rest period during Super Bowl halftimes was crucial.

    “Everybody was able to catch their breath,” he said. “These type of games, with this type of atmosphere, the extra break is needed. You know, we were able to eat a few chicken strips, relax, everybody was able to take it in, take a deep breath and meditate.

    “You know we got a lot of young guys on this team – a lot of first-time starters in his league. And you know, usually, I still get jitters going out, but those guys, I can only imagine how much they had gone through their mind. So I think that halftime played perfectly. It let us come back together.”

    On offense, it seems like the halftime message was just as critical as the rest. The top-scoring offense in the NFL could only score seven points from scrimmage and needed to score 10 more on top of whatever the Eagles would be able to score.

    All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce said the message at halftime was simple. “Be ourselves,” he said. “Let’s go out there and be ourselves, play with a little more fire that was essentially the end of the discussion. Just play with more fire for the guy next to you. It’s never a battle of want. Everybody wants it, man. It’s the ones that can that can bring that energy in and bring the focus to be able to finish.”

    Halftime in the Super Bowl is different, both for players and observers. For observers, the food offerings are below-par. The concessions served bog-standard hot dogs, and the food provided to stadium staff and media consisted of overcooked hamburgers with no toppings.

    The crowds are overwhelming and made worse than a typical game because of the additional Super Bowl amenities built into the concourses of the stadium reduced space to a third of what it was. It’s also a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    The extended wait can also mean that teams stew in their mistakes and spiral further. The resounding performance outside — this year, a platform-heavy spectacle from Rihanna with no guests — infiltrates the locker room in a way that both reminds players of the enormity of the task ahead of them and isolates them from the rest of the crowd.

    It also presented critical opportunity for the Chiefs.

    There is a hard reality that one has to confront when all these differences impact preparation and execution of the game. For Kansas City, it meant revamping their defense and refocusing the offense.

    In the second half, the Chiefs had drives that began at their own 25-yard line three times and at Philadelphia’s 5-yard line once, meaning that they had 230 available yards to gain. The only reason they didn’t gain all 230 yards is because Jerick McKinnon had the presence of mind to slide at the 2-yard line instead of score.

    The Eagles, who led the league in sacks and had the third-most sacks in NFL history, couldn’t bring Mahomes down once. They hit him four times in the first half but only once in the second.

    The NFL Field Failed the Super Bowl

    Part of the issue was the unfortunate truth behind these enormous events. The NFL prepared the field poorly. Haason Reddick said after the game, “There was a lot of slipping all over that field. It didn’t even matter that I changed my cleats. I still had seven studs, and I still was slipping. So, I don’t know.”

    Reddick’s comments were prompted by direct questions about the state of the field, and he made sure to emphasize that he loathes making excuses for his level of play. But after continued prodding, he continued, saying, “I’m not gonna lie, it was the worst field I ever played on.”

    “You know, it’s the NFL – you would think it would be better so we can get some better play,” he said. “It was hard man. I beat my man in a couple of times … just trying to turn a corner, slipping, I just couldn’t turn the corner.”

    There’s an expectation of purity in these moments, where everything is decided by play on the field, removed of external factors like officiating, the field of play, or even a poorly-timed gust of wind. No Super Bowl ever has been free of those elements.

    Even in a mostly indoor stadium with wonderful weather, fans experiencing the spectacle of a magical sporting event also had to deal with the air conditioner dripping as the condenser worked overtime early in the day. Behind every magical moment, lurking around the corner of greatness, was a jarring reminder of the mediocrity of everyday life. There is no fantasy without that gritty reality.

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    It was a beautiful game, with stunning moments and outstanding pageantry. It was marred, as they all are, with the actualities of modern football. The best throw-and-catch of a game full of impossible catches and ridiculous throws was, in fact, not a catch at all, as it was determined that DeVonta Smith — who, in a fitting homage to a previous Super Bowl in Arizona, pinned the ball to his helmet — did not secure the ball on his way out of bounds.

    The NFL rules don’t, and maybe can’t, have space for that kind of beauty.

    The push and pull of what we want the crowning moment of the NFL season to be and what all the logistics, hard work, dirty jobs, and potential for mistakes demand we confront are at the heart of every big event.

    Both quarterbacks know this. And they knew it was on them to find what mattered and create a reason that those things mattered. Mahomes said after the game, “I appreciate it. Because of the failures. I mean, the failure of losing the Super Bowl and losing AFC Championship Game, it gives you a greater appreciation to be standing here as a champion.”

    And Hurts said even more.

    “You want to cherish these moments with the people that you’ve come so far with, your family, your loved ones, your teammates, your peers, everyone that you do it with and do it for,” Hurts said. “I’m so proud of this team for everything that we’ve been able to overcome.”

    He finished, “I think the beautiful part about it is everyone experiences different pains, everyone experiences different agonies of life, but you decide if you want to learn from it. You decide if you want that to be a teachable moment. I know I do.”

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