Down 10 points in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, Patrick Mahomes briefly impersonated a normal human quarterback. The Kansas City Chiefs star threw an interception, his second of the evening. It marked the first time all season that Mahomes had thrown multiple picks in a game, and he had no one to blame but himself. With his team approaching the San Francisco 49ers’ end zone, Mahomes fired a pass behind Tyreek Hill and the receiver could only tip the ball into the waiting arms of cornerback Tarvarius Moore.
Mahomes has barely had a sub-phenomenal moment in his two years as an NFL starter, so watching him err during the biggest game of his career was like watching a variety show knife thrower draw blood. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Chiefs’ loss to the Patriots in last year’s playoffs doesn’t really court, because Mahomes didn’t get the ball in overtime. This year, Mahomes had been infallible in the postseason, throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions. And he decided to transform into a pumpkin now, with the Chiefs down 20–10? I almost slapped the side of my TV, just in case the interception was the result of a shoddy signal.
The signal turned out to be fine. (And yes, I use an antenna.) In a matter of minutes, Mahomes and the Chiefs had scored 21 points on their way to a 31–20 Super Bowl victory.
For most teams, giving the ball to San Francisco at such a late stage of the game would be a fatal wound. The Niners’ fearsome run game can usually bleed the clock dry, but they only managed to knock a few minutes off before Kansas City forced a punt.
Seeing as Mahomes had already filled his playoff quota for mistakes, the quarterback had little choice but to make things look easy against the league’s best defense. Sure, there were backs-against-the-wall moments, like when Kansas City faced a third-and-15 with 7:13 left on the clock, but I like to imagine Mahomes got into that jam on purpose. When else would he get the chance to show off his SCUD-missile arm by completing a 44-yard pass to Hill?
The ball was in the air for 57.1 yards on that play, making it Mahomes’ longest airborne completion of the season. The ensuing touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce was a little more elementary, parabolically speaking.
Being up three points to Kansas City is like being down 17 points to a normal team. In the playoffs they’d erased double-digit deficits to both the Houston Texans (24 points) and Tennessee Titans (10 points). So the 49ers’ best hope was to hold onto the ball and run out the clock. Instead, they went three-and-out, leaving Kansas City with ample time to maraud down the field.
Mahomes and the Chiefs wouldn’t need much of it. They went to a no-huddle offense in the fourth quarter, which for them is like switching the game’s settings to “easy.” Only two minutes and 26 seconds transpired between Mahomes stepping on the field and Damien* Williams crossing the goal line to give Kansas City a 24–20 lead.
The Chiefs’ final touchdown of the evening came when Williams burst around the edge for a 38-yard run. They were actually trying to wind down the clock at that point, but this offense simply can’t resist putting up points. Gluttony may be the only thing we can fault them for.
I want to say that Mahomes will remember this daring, come-from-behind victory for the rest of his life, but there’s a chance it’ll get lost among all his future Super Bowl successes. He’s only 24 years old, which is an awfully young age to ascend to football perfection. Thank heavens he still knows how to make a mistake every now and then, if only to keep things interesting.
Correction, Feb. 3, 2020: This post originally misspelled Damien Williams’ first name.