MIAMI — The Super Bowl has been played. The Chiefs are returning home to Missouri with the Lombardi Trophy. The hotel rooms are turning over. My liver can’t take any more punishment.
It was a good week in Miami for Super Bowl LIV, and now it’s time to head home, back to reality.
But before moving on to the 2020 NFL offseason, let’s take one last look back at the week that was at the Super Bowl, and what we learned about the Chiefs, 49ers, Patriots, and the rest of the NFL:
1. The Chiefs are the new top dogs of the AFC.
Less than an hour after winning their first Super Bowl in 50 years, the Chiefs were already talking about running it back in 2020.
“You get one, you want to go get another one,” coach Andy Reid said.
“This is the beginning of something, baby,” defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “This is a dynasty. This is sack nation.”
Meanwhile, defensive end Frank Clark was crowing about the end of one dynasty and the start of another.
“Not no Patriots dynasty,” he said. “We got rid of them, too, earlier in the year. We’re going to do it more like the Chiefs dynasty.”
We’ll see about that. The Chiefs have a lot of high-priced players, and a giant contract with Patrick Mahomes looming. He is entering the last year of his deal in 2020, set to make $2.7 million with a cap number of about $5.2 million.
Whether it’s this offseason or next, Mahomes will be commanding a contract worth $40 million or more per season. And the Chiefs won’t be able to load up on expensive talent around him, as they did the last two years. They may have to start shedding some guys this offseason.
It’s not as if the Patriots are completely dead, either. They can still get back to the top next year with Bill Belichick coaching the defense and a better receiver or two for Tom Brady.
But as long as the Chiefs have Mahomes and Reid, they will be competing for AFC championships. Reid is one of the league’s best coaches, and proved this year that he can finally win the big one. And Mahomes is an absolute superstar — a league MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Super Bowl MVP before turning 25.
The Chiefs’ future is bright. The Patriots’ is uncertain. No matter if Brady returns to Foxborough next year, the Chiefs are the new alpha dogs in the AFC.
2. Mahomes is a magician.
Mahomes is the new Captain Comeback. He went 5-0 this season in games in which the Chiefs trailed by at least 10 points, the best single-season record by a quarterback in NFL history. And the Chiefs became the first team to win a Super Bowl after trailing by 10-plus points in every game of a postseason.
They weren’t fazed by trailing, 24-0, to the Texans, didn’t bat an eye when losing, 17-7, to the Titans, and made all of the clutch plays when trailing, 20-10, in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
Mahomes simply can’t be stopped for four quarters. He has lost eight games in his NFL career, and here are the Chiefs’ points scored in those games: 40, 51, 28, 31, 24, 13, 32, 31. Pretty incredible.
3. Mobile quarterbacks are needed in today’s NFL.
The four quarterbacks who reached the conference championship games: Mahomes, Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Tannehill, Aaron Rodgers. The 2019 MVP: Lamar Jackson. One of the MVP finalists: Russell Wilson.
What do they have in common? The ability to make plays with their feet.
Quarterbacks still have to be proficient pocket passers to thrive in the NFL, but having the athleticism and speed to scramble adds another dimension that challenges a defense. Mahomes’s feet were nearly as important as his arm in the postseason, as he rushed for 53, 53, and 29 yards in the three games, with two rushing touchdowns.
Statue-like pocket quarterbacks such as Brady and Philip Rivers can still win, but not having the ability to scramble reduces how your offense can attack a defense. Today’s quarterbacks are such great athletes that the Brady/Rivers/Peyton Manning/Dan Marino style of quarterback may soon go the way of the dodo.
4. Leave Kyle Shanahan alone (mostly).
The 49ers coach faces another long offseason of what-ifs and questions about his play-calling. The number crunchers say the 49ers had a 94.5 percent chance of winning early in the fourth quarter. Ouch.
Only three times in 54 Super Bowls has a team lost after leading by 10-plus points in the fourth quarter, and Shanahan was part of two of them (49ers vs. Chiefs and Falcons vs. Patriots). The other was the Seahawks against the Patriots.
But a lot of the criticism Shanahan is taking for his fourth-quarter play-calling is unwarranted.
Should Shanahan have called a run, and not a pass, on second and 9 from his own 39-yard line, leading by 10 with 9:52 left? I suppose he could have.
Should Shanahan have called a run, and not a pass, on second and 5 from his own 25-yard line, leading, 20-17, with 5:27 remaining? It’s easy to second-guess it after the fact.
But Shanahan knew he had to stay aggressive, considering the quarterback and weapons on the other sideline. And the Niners’ run-pass balance in the fourth quarter got out of whack only once they fell behind and had to throw on every play.
When they were leading, they called three runs and five passes. That’s not why the Niners lost. They lost because their defense couldn’t get a stop in the fourth quarter, and the passing game couldn’t connect.
However, there was one play that deserves criticism. Third and 10, with 1:40 left, trailing, 24-20, the 49ers had the ball on the Chiefs’ 49-yard line, and Garoppolo chucked an incomplete deep pass to Emmanuel Sanders.
Now, Sanders was definitely open, and a good throw probably results in a touchdown. But that was far too risky a play for the situation. At that point, the Niners needed to move the chains, not hit a home run. The time for that deep shot would have been the previous play, on second and 10. And the deep ball is not Garoppolo’s forte. He’s a precision, medium-range passer, not a bomber.
Shanahan and the 49ers seemed to panic with that play-call.
5. Cover 3? More like cover zero.
The three teams that have blown 10-point leads in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl have a common link: They each played the “cover 3” defensive scheme. Dan Quinn ran it in Seattle, brought it to Atlanta, and his Seattle protégé, Robert Saleh, brought it to San Francisco.
It’s a scheme in which the cornerbacks usually stick to one side of the field, and play press-man coverage or drop back into a deep zone. The scheme also relies heavily on a dominant defensive front getting pressure on the quarterback.
The scheme has produced some tremendous regular-season defenses. But apparently it is easy to pick apart, and doesn’t have enough wiggle room for in-game adjustments. A good quarterback like Brady or Mahomes can diagnose the coverage before the snap, know exactly where to go with the ball, and not have to worry about many surprises. I wonder if we’ll start to see teams move away from this defense.
6. The Niners have to keep it together now.
One of the toughest parts about losing the Super Bowl is regrouping the next season. The Falcons made the playoffs the year after their loss, but have since completely fallen apart. The Panthers have made the playoffs once in four years since their Super Bowl loss. The Rams missed the playoffs this year. The Patriots, of course, regrouped last year and won the Super Bowl, which hadn’t been done since the ’71-72 Dolphins.
The good news for the 49ers is that most of their core is under contract for another year. They probably have to sign tight end George Kittle to a big extension, and might not keep some of their older veterans such as Sanders and tackle Joe Staley, but otherwise should be able to keep the team intact for 2020. The question, though, is can Shanahan, Garoppolo, and the rest avoid the dreaded hangover?
7. Damien Williams: The latest unlikely Super Bowl hero.
The Super Bowl has a penchant for producing unlikely heroes, from Timmy Smith to Malcolm Butler to Dexter Jackson to Tracey Porter and many others. Now joining the group is the Chiefs running back, an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma in 2014 who spent four years with the Dolphins and the last two with the Chiefs.
Williams has been more of a pass-catching back and a role player, as his 498 rushing yards this season were a career high. But Williams rushed for 104 yards on 17 carries in the Super Bowl, and had the game-winning touchdown (a 5-yard catch) and game-clinching touchdown (38-yard run) in the final three minutes.
Williams became the first player in NFL history to rush for 100 yards and have a receiving touchdown in the Super Bowl.
8. The Super Bowl is boring without the Patriots.
Perhaps I’m just being a provincial, the-world-revolves-around-us New Englander, but this Super Bowl week was pretty boring without the Patriots in it. They have big crossover stars. They play the villain role to perfection. They have the best history, and the most at stake. No offense to the Chiefs and 49ers, but neither team stirs up much passion for casual fans.
Perhaps that’s why the Patriots still dominated the week. “Where will Tom Brady play?” was one of the top three media story lines. Rob Gronkowski was the mayor of Super Bowl week and held one of the biggest bashes. Belichick hit the party circuit. Brady was in a Super Bowl commercial.
What this week proved is that the NFL needs to develop another villain beyond the Patriots.