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Chiefs Defeat 49ers in Stunning Super Bowl Comeback

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The years since the Chiefs’ last Super Bowl victory have felt like decades and the decades like centuries in the Kansas City area, where season after season ended in emotional wreckage. The playoffs unspooled as if booby-trapped. Good teams cratered. Better ones collapsed. There are scars.

Deliverance arrived on Sunday night. The Chiefs unleashed a half-century of frustration in a frenetic fourth quarter that their fans will remember for eternity. A team that could never win the final game, led by a man who had never won it as a head coach, stunned the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20, behind a quarterback who makes all things in football possible.

Stifled for the first 50 minutes, Patrick Mahomes reprised his playoff sorcery, leading three touchdown drives in the final 6 minutes 32 seconds, to deliver the Chiefs their first championship since the 1969 season. Just as he did three weeks ago, when they trailed the Houston Texans by 24 points, and two weeks ago, when they trailed the Tennessee Titans by 10, Mahomes spun a double-digit deficit into a double-digit victory.

“He seen it in some guys’ eyes, they were getting down, including myself,” said receiver Tyreek Hill, whose 44-yard reception on third-and-15 from the Chiefs’ 35-yard line propelled the comeback. “I was like, ‘Man, how are we going to pull this off?’ And he was like: ’10, you’ve got to believe, brother. Like the same faith you’ve had all of your career, you’ve got to believe right now. It’s going to happen, man. I can feel it.’ He brought the guys together, and you saw what happened.”

What happened was another instance of Mahomes’s demonstrating how normal rules do not seem to apply to him. The same quarterback who missed only two games with a dislocated kneecap, who flicks passes with his off hand or without looking, shredded what by some metrics was the N.F.L.’s best pass defense in the last 10 years.

During the regular season, San Francisco allowed 169.2 passing yards per game, the fewest in the league since 2009. Mahomes, selected as the game’s most valuable player, nearly matched that total in the fourth quarter, when he threw for 141 yards and two touchdowns, to Travis Kelce and Damien Williams. Five times this season the Chiefs have trailed by at least 10 points, and all five times they won.

“Doesn’t matter what the score is,” Kelce said. “We’ve got Pat Mahomes. We’ve got an unbelievable defense and they’ll put their foot in the ground against anybody.”

At 24, Mahomes is the second-youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, behind Ben Roethlisberger, who was 23 when he won in the 2005 season. He is also the third African-American quarterback to win, joining Doug Williams and Russell Wilson, and the youngest player to have won an M.V.P. Award, in the 2018 season, and a Super Bowl.

“There’s several guys that could be the face of the N.F.L.,” Mahomes said, adding, “I just try to be the best Patrick Mahomes I can be and try to win football games with the guys that I have around me.”

At the conclusion of a centennial season for the N.F.L. defined by the ascent of outstanding African-American quarterbacks like Mahomes and this season’s league M.V.P., Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, as well as the retirements of three under-30 stars who retreated because of long-term health concerns, the showpiece of the N.F.L. calendar was contested under a somber backdrop.

A week that began with players and coaches absorbing the death of Kobe Bryant, the N.B.A. star who perished with eight others in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash, ended with both teams assembling on the 24-yard line — for Bryant’s number — in a pregame moment of silence.

It was an atypical Super Bowl for other reasons — the halftime show was orchestrated by Jay-Z, summoned to allay concerns about managing social justice expressions, and the New England Patriots, who had appeared in four of the last five, were conspicuously absent.

By early in the fourth quarter, the 49ers had largely silenced Mahomes. They harassed him into throwing two interceptions. Before Sunday, he had not been picked off even once across his previous four playoff games.

But then the boulder fell atop the 49ers, one Chiefs touchdown after another, one crucial defensive stand after another, until the partisan Kansas City crowd hugged and danced in the aisles and the Gatorade bath drenched Reid and cannons fired red-and-gold confetti in the shape of the Lombardi Trophy.

Mahomes’s artistry fueled the comeback. But the origins of the victory are rooted in two calls from the first half, when Reid went for it, twice, on fourth down in the red zone. Those decisions produced 10 points and further reinforced Reid’s acumen, his recognition that the reward in that situation far outweighed the risk.

“I mean, we’re not here to play around,” fullback Anthony Sherman said. “We’re here to win this thing and do it on our shoulders. For a coach to be able to say to his team, ‘Listen, I am going to rely on you and trust in you guys, go get it done’ — we got it done for him.”

They did so despite early play-calling wizardry from 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan, who was manipulating Kansas City’s linebackers with presnap deception and misdirection, setting up play-action passes and creating room in the middle of the field — precisely where San Francisco wanted the ball.

The 49ers evened the score at 10-10 on a masterly design in which fullback Kyle Juszczyk motioned out before doubling back inside off a well-concealed play fake. Garoppolo whipped a low pass to Juszczyk over the middle, and he darted in from 15 yards, the first score by a fullback in a Super Bowl since Mike Alstott of Tampa Bay 17 years ago.

His touchdown kindled a stretch of 17 consecutive 49ers points. San Francisco led by 10 with less than seven minutes remaining. But Mahomes, as ever, lurked.

The Chiefs’ resurgence had begun in 2013, when they hired Reid to reform a wayward franchise and modernize the offense. But the real inflection point came three springs later, when General Manager Brett Veach, then a personnel executive, watching some Texas Tech film, called out to Reid that he had unearthed their next quarterback.

Kansas City had not drafted one in the first round since 1983, favoring erstwhile 49ers like Joe Montana and Elvis Grbac to fill the position instead.

But Mahomes, Veach and his staff believed, was a generational talent. When the Chiefs traded up to draft him, Mahomes said, he stated two goals for himself: win the Lamar Hunt trophy, named for the founder and original owner of the Chiefs and given to the A.F.C. champion, and win a Super Bowl for Reid. Surrounded by teammates in the tunnel before they ran out for warm-ups, Mahomes implored them, “Ain’t no better time to be great than today.”

He was, and they were. Forget about the Chiefs’ inventory of postseason failures, Lin Elliott’s missed field goal and Marcus Mariota’s touchdown catch and Dee Ford’s offsides and all those other times they stepped on a rake.

The excruciating wait is over: for Reid, who has won more games than all but five coaches in N.F.L. history, all of whom had won titles, and for Kansas City.

The Chiefs, after 50 years, are champions again.

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