fb-pixel Skip to main content

How the Chiefs went from 6-4 to Super Bowl favorites

Beating the Patriots in Week 14 was big for Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who suffered two heartbreaking losses to New England last season.FILE/MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF/Globe Staff

The goal at the Super Bowl all week was to write stories that the Globe’s readership would find the most interesting. Those stories included Tom Brady’s future, Jimmy Garoppolo’s journey, Wes Welker’s next chapter, and Kyle Shanahan’s redemption from the blown 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately for the Chiefs, those stories didn’t include much about them, other than Jim McBride’s excellent profile of Andy Reid on Friday. So, let’s catch up on the Chiefs and how they went from 6-4 to Super Bowl favorites:

■  Several players said that if the Chiefs had a turning point, it was their Week 10 loss at Tennessee, 35-32. The Chiefs have won their last eight games, with the defense allowing just 15.5 points per game.


But their measuring stick win came in Week 14, when they knocked off the Patriots, 23-16, at Gillette Stadium.

“Any time you can go into an environment like that, play a quarterback like that, and a coach like that, it builds some confidence in the team,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said.

“You go into New England and you find a way to win, you’re doing something right,” tight end Travis Kelce added.

The Chiefs have beaten the Patriots before — Kelce and several teammates won at Gillette Stadium in the 2017 season opener — but that Week 14 win was a big hump for Patrick Mahomes, who suffered two heartbreaking losses to the Patriots in 2018.

“I think for me and some of the guys that weren’t here, just to have that win against that team, it was big,” Mahomes said. “And it was a big point in our season where we started to go on a run and we kind of rode that momentum into this postseason and got us where we are.”


■  The Chiefs also got plenty of help from the Patriots in Week 17. The Patriots’ shocking loss at home to the Dolphins, combined with the Chiefs’ win over the Chargers, gave the Chiefs the No. 2 playoff seed and a first-round bye instead of the Patriots.

But the games were being played simultaneously, and the Chiefs’ players had no idea what was going on until about two minutes remained in the fourth quarter. While that seems like an impossibility in today’s age, only a handful of support staff on the sideline were allowed to be using cellphones, and the Chiefs made sure not to put any info on the out-of-town scoreboard.

“I heard [the score] was up there and Coach Reid asked for it to be taken down,” kicker Harrison Butker said. “The only way we knew was some guys on the sideline, some of the support staff were watching. And then all the fans had their phones out, so when they started cheering we knew something was up.”

The fans at Arrowhead Stadium went wild when the Patriots’ loss became final, and that’s when the Chiefs found out they were getting a first-round bye.

“The crowd just started going nuts, and we were like, ‘Holy, something’s going on,’ ” Kelce said.

“I don’t think it was something anybody expected to happen. We expected to play the next week in the wild-card game,” Butker said.

■  Most of the pregame analysis will focus on the Chiefs’ high-flying offense, or the 49ers’ dominant defense, or the quarterback battle between Mahomes and Garoppolo.


But the Chiefs’ defense is an underrated unit that I believe will be the deciding factor.

“When your offense is that good, you don’t hear as much about the defense,” Shanahan said. “But first watching them that Monday and Tuesday, you quickly realize why this team is in the Super Bowl. That defense is as good as any defense.”

Unconventional Preview: On paper, this Super Bowl feels like a clash of contrasting styles. On the field, expect a classic

The Chiefs actually allowed fewer points per game than the 49ers this season (Chiefs were seventh at 19.2, 49ers were eighth at 19.4). And the defense has been especially good over the past two months. Between Weeks 11-17, the Chiefs allowed the fewest points in the NFL (11.5 per game). And in the postseason, they’ve allowed five touchdowns on 20 true possessions to the Texans and Titans.

After finishing 31st in total defense a year ago, and letting the Patriots march up and down for 37 points in the AFC Championship game, the Chiefs last offseason hired Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator and switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3. They traded Dee Ford and brought in Frank Clark and Mathieu to anchor the new defense.

“We knew we had to get a different mind-set — more aggressive and just that mentality we had to play with,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “Knowing the defense has come a long way is certainly gratifying to our staff.”


It took more than half of the season for the players to get used to Spagnuolo’s scheme. Between Weeks 1-10, the Chiefs were 19th in points allowed (23.9 per game).

But as Clark said, “Once I started understanding and breaking down the position more that was required for playing defensive end in the Chiefs’ scheme for Coach Spags, that’s when things started making more sense.”

■  Speaking of Ford, Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better story. A star pass rusher who had 13 sacks last season for the Chiefs, Ford pulled a key blunder in the AFC Championship game loss — lining up six inches offside and drawing a penalty that negated a Brady interception late in the fourth quarter. The Chiefs then traded Ford in the offseason, as he wasn’t as good of a fit in Spagnuolo’s scheme, and sent him to the 49ers, who subsequently signed him to a five-year, $85 million deal.

Ford got his redemption, reaching the Super Bowl with the 49ers. And of all the teams he could face, of course it’s the Chiefs, who themselves got redemption for last year’s loss.

“It’s unbelievable,” Ford said. “But it’s a great opportunity. It’s going to be fun.”

Ford said he has no hard feelings for the Chiefs. He ended up in a good spot and got a good contract out of it.

“A lot of people don’t know, I knew I was getting traded. That was something that both parties agreed to,” Ford said. “So we all worked out a really good deal. I found the team that I really wanted to go to, and it all just worked out.”


■  Official Volin prediction: Chiefs 34, 49ers 24. The Chiefs’ offense is just too powerful, and the defense will make enough stops to hand Reid his elusive Super Bowl championship.


Tide’s Tagovailoa recovering well

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa spoke to the media on Radio Row before the Super Bowl.Vasha Hunt/AP/FR171624 AP via AP

One person making the rounds on Radio Row at the Super Bowl was Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is two-plus months removed from suffering a dislocated hip that ended his season.

Tagovailoa would have been a cinch top-five pick had he not suffered the injury. But he is already walking without crutches, and agent Leigh Steinberg is confident Tagovailoa will still be a high draft pick. The Dolphins at No. 5 look like an obvious landing spot, though they may even have to trade up to get him.

“We’ve gotten good doctors’ reports from his MRI, and he’s not on his crutches anymore,” Steinberg told the Globe. “He’s come along fine, and we have February, March, a number of months. So I’m anticipating that he’ll get teams excited and he’ll go toward the top of the draft.”

Tagovailoa has remained at the University of Alabama to continuing working with the same rehab specialists, and at some point he will start to work with his private coach, former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer. Tagovailoa will only do interviews at the NFL Combine next month and won’t work out, but Steinberg does expect Tagovailoa to hold workouts before the April 23 draft.

“He’s very intelligent, very mature. He’s going to impress teams,” Steinberg said. “We think things are rosy.”

Tagovailoa certainly hasn’t ruled out being able to play in 2020, though Steinberg wouldn’t mind if he went to a team with a veteran starter already in place.

“If you ask me, Patrick Mahomes benefited greatly from a year of really good tutelage from Alex Smith, so it wouldn’t break my heart if he ends up learning behind a talented mentor,” Steinberg said. “But I don’t think physically it will be an issue.”


Gronk doesn’t regret timing

Former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said he doesn’t regret the timing of his retirement.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Rob Gronkowski has been asked a lot about his retirement from football over the past year, but not one specific question that hung over the Patriots all season.

So I put it to him at the end of his media availability with Fox Sports on Tuesday afternoon:

The timing of your retirement, two weeks into free agency — a lot of people said it hamstrung the Patriots this year and prevented them from adding players in free agency like Jared Cook. Do you have any regrets over the timing of your decision?

“No, not at all,” Gronkowski said. “I just felt like it was the right timing. We just won the Super Bowl — what was it, first week of February? To tell you the truth, I also had a quad that I couldn’t walk on for a week or two, and it was pounding me. So I wanted to heal up a little bit, get my thoughts all together. I didn’t want to make any decisions on the emotions right after the game, so I had to take a little time. But I didn’t want to wait too long, either. I just felt like it was the right time for myself and my family and everyone around me.”

Mostert has made most of chance

Raheem Mostert scored four touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game.Tony Avelar/AP/FR155217 AP via AP

One of the best stories of the Super Bowl is that of 49ers running back Raheem Mostert, who has emerged as a consistent weapon this season, and rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the NFC Championship game.

Mostert went undrafted in 2015 and got released by six teams before getting an opportunity with the 49ers in 2016. Even then, he was just a special teams contributor for coach Kyle Shanahan, and wasn’t showing much of an effort in practice. It led to a heart-to-heart talk in 2018.

“Raheem had gone in a couple times, made a few mistakes, fumbled the ball to where I just wanted to know how serious he was with being on offense,” Shanahan recalled. “And I remember calling him in, and I was kind of frustrated thinking he wasn’t putting forth the effort on offense. And I said, ‘Hey, you need to let me know. Do you want to just be a special teams player?’

“Raheem opened up to me, and it was a pretty emotional talk, just how much he did believe he could be a running back and how he felt like he had never been given a chance. You could hear the passion in his voice and you could see it in his eyes, and I knew right after talking to him, this guy had a fire in him, he wanted an opportunity.”

Vick hasn’t forgotten final game

Michael Vick played his final NFL game for the Steelers in 2015.Gene J. Puskar/AP/Associated Press

Michael Vick, part of Fox’s Super Bowl coverage, was asked on Tuesday what he remembers from his final NFL game, which was in October 2015 for the Steelers against the Cardinals. The detail in Vick’s answer was fascinating — it all ended, in part, because he didn’t trust his presnap read.

“My last game in the NFL was missing Antonio Brown on the deep ball,” Vick said. “I predetermined where I was going to go with the throw, not trusting Antonio Brown vs. Patrick Peterson. I trusted Martavis Bryant vs. another corner.

“I threw it to Martavis on a deep throw, it was incomplete, and Antonio Brown made a move on Peterson and he fell and he was running by himself. I looked at the film on the sideline on the iPad and saw what happened. And the next possession, I pulled my hamstring and never played again.”

Vick was making his third start in a row, filling in for an injured Ben Roethlisberger. But once Vick hurt his hamstring, the Steelers turned to Landry Jones, and Vick was either injured or inactive for the rest of the season.

“So if I had just made that throw, I would’ve [started] three games in a row, and they would’ve waited for me to heal from that hamstring,” Vick said. “The fact that I missed that throw and it was a little confusing on the sideline between me and Antonio, I never played again.

“I’ve thought about it a lot. I don’t let it get me down. I just knew I was second-guessing myself, and you shouldn’t do that. You can’t line up under center and not feel comfortable about what you’re doing.”

Extra points

The 49ers’ run game coordinator is named Mike McDaniel — a 36-year-old former Yale receiver who is no relation to Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. But he gets plenty of confusion over it. “Probably 70 percent of the time, people have just taken it upon themselves to change my last name to McDaniels. So there’s a lot of plural versions of me going around,” the singular McDaniel said. “I feel like he’s done a tremendous amount of marketing for me, being such a good coach for such a long time.” . . . Even though the Texans officially named Bill O’Brien general manager and Jack Easterby executive vice president of football operations, I’m told it still doesn’t close the door on Nick Caserio going to Houston, as he attempted to do last year. Caserio is a free agent this spring and doesn’t need a better title or full roster control in order to leave the Patriots. The Texans still need a lead contract negotiator and salary cap expert, and Caserio has been the Patriots’ lead negotiator for several years . . . The NFL’s record in diversity hiring is still seriously lagging, but it is good to see the Browns hire 32-year-old Andrew Berry, a former All-Ivy League cornerback at Harvard and Eagles executive, as the second minority GM in the league, joining Miami’s Chris Grier . . . Since getting word three weeks ago he will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson has gotten congratulatory texts from Bill Belichick, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, Chargers owner Dean Spanos, but not from a certain Cowboys owner. “No, I haven’t heard anything,” Johnson said of Jerry Jones . . . Of the five head coaches fired in 2019-20, Ron Rivera got another head coaching job, while Jason Garrett, Pat Shurmur, and Jay Gruden are now offensive coordinators. Only Freddie Kitchens was bumped down to the ranks of position coach, taking a job as the Giants’ tight ends coach. Guess it was pretty obvious that Kitchens was a bit over his head as the Browns’ head coach.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.