Super Bowl Takeaways for the 2023 NFL Season

We finally made it to the Super Bowl. I still hate that this comes after the Pro Bowl and NFL Honors, but we’re here. All of the blood, sweat, and tiers put in by players, coaches, and their staff members has been for this. I’ve tried to guide you the entire way, and I’m not stopping here. With just the NFC’s 1-seed and the defending champs remaining, we got to see which highly touted team would take the Lombardi trophy. Both teams played their hearts out, but Kansas City won near the end of the first overtime period. I’ve got a LOT to say about this contest, and I won’t keep you waiting; read on for my Super Bowl takeaways!

(3) Kansas City Chiefs 25, (1) San Francisco 49ers 22 (OT)

For the first time since the New England Patriots two decades ago, we have ourselves repeat champs. Honestly, the week started out terribly for the Niners. SF was unhappy with their practice field at UNLV’s stadium as it was way too soft. Conversely, the Chiefs got the Raiders’ practice field, which was excellent. I don’t believe this impacted the game, but it wasn’t a fantastic omen. Nor was the fact that KC won the opening coin toss and got to defer. That almost didn’t matter, as the 49ers marched to the KC 29. However, RB Christian McCaffrey had a rare fumble, and DE George Karlaftis fell on it.

Neither team got much going early on. After the fumble, the Chiefs went 3 and out, while the Niners suffered 2 straight penalties by All-Pro LT Trent Williams to short-circuit their second drive. Kansas City followed that up by punting in 4 plays. This came after a Chase Young sack of Patrick Mahomes, which is very rare against the Houdini-like QB in the playoffs. SF’s midseason trade for Young almost paid off in one play. The Niners’ offense finally got going on their 3rd possession thanks to QB Brock Purdy‘s hot start. He completed his first 5 passes and looked very sharp early. Still, the first quarter ended with a 0-0 score.

That drive would lead to our first points of the game, a Super Bowl-record 55-yard FG by K Jake Moody of all people. Kansas City turned on their offense immediately thereafter, with Mahomes hitting WR Mecole Hardman for a 52-yard bomb that S Tashaun Gipson never saw. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, on the very next play (1st and goal), RB Isiah Pacheco fumbled, and SF recovered. The 49ers really improved their run defense after being shredded by Detroit, holding Pacheco to 59 yards on 18 carries (he did add 33 yards receiving). At that point Niners began dropping like flies.

Upon punting one drive later, LB Dre Greenlaw ran onto the field excitedly after watching the coverage team. He seemed to buckle on the field, and we would learn that he suffered a torn Achilles. That really hurt; not only did they lose a top player for the game, but he might also miss the start of next season. I do have to say that his replacement, Oren Burks, played really well, especially in run support. WR Deebo Samuel would go down later with a hamstring injury, but he gutted it out and contributed decently (3/33). Finally, TE George Kittle hurt his shoulder in OT but only missed a few snaps.

On their next possession, the 49ers moved to the KC 21 and got tricky. Purdy threw backwards to WR Jauan Jennings, who fired a wobbler to McCaffrey near the line of scrimmage. McCaffrey took the pass for a TD thanks to a stellar play by G Spencer Burford. LB Nick Bolton was poised to take the fluttering toss for a pick six, but Burford knocked him out of the way. Kansas City finally got on the board with an FG before the half, but it was a poor offensive showing. TE Travis Kelce had just 1 catch for 1 yard, and he was seen angrily shoving and shouting at HC Andy Reid on the sideline.

After receiving the second-half kickoff, things didn’t get much better for KC. Pacheco dropped a pitch but recovered it, losing 12 yards. Two plays later, Mahomes sailed a pass that was picked off by S Ji’Ayir Brown. On the positive side for the Chiefs, DC Steve Spagnuolo and the defense figured things out. Even though SF started their subsequent drive at the KC 44, the swarming defense forced a 3 and out, leading to a punt. WR Chris Conley downed that punt at the 2. Conley would also make a vicious tackle to stop returner Richie James in his tracks, as both special teams units were great through 3 quarters.

The 49ers offense went to sleep in the 3rd quarter, scoring no points. They oddly went away from the run, and DT Chris Jones started dominating the interior of the offensive line. Their defense started to get tired, allowing Mahomes to run repeatedly. The man was not sliding in a Super Bowl, and SF didn’t do much to make him do so. That drive led to yet another FG length record, with reliable K Harrison Butker connecting from 57 yards out. San Francisco followed that with their third straight 3 and out. Regardless, they still held a 10-6 led and forced KC to go 3 and out on their next drive.

This is where it felt like the wheels fell off. The following punt hit Darrell Luter on the leg, and KC recovered at the SF 16. One play later, a drained and shell-shocked defense had a coverage bust, and Mahomes hit WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was wide open, for a 16-yard TD. Thus, KC had their first lead of the night. Needing to stop the momentum, when San Francisco faced 4th and 3 in the red zone, HC Kyle Shanahan rolled the dice. Purdy found Kittle for a first down, one of only 2 catches for the TE on the day (for 4 yards). His counterpart, Kelce, switched gears and ended up with a team-leading 9 catches for 93 yards.

Following the 4th-down completion, Jennings finished the drive with one of his seemingly patented tackle-breaking TDs. Jennings came up big all night with 4 catches for 42 yards and his two TDs (1 passing, 1 receiving). That was particularly important with so many ailing Niners. His great play was quickly forgotten, as Moody’s PAT was blocked, keeping the score at 16-13. This was Moody’s first career PAT miss, and it was his fault for kicking the ball too low. Despite that, the drive still felt like a legacy drive for Purdy and Shanahan. At least it would’ve been had the game ended differently.

The score was the first 4th-quarter TD allowed by KC’s defense in the last 6 games. A stat like that tells you how much Spagnuolo’s unit shuts down opponents late when needed most. Clearly wearing down, San Francisco’s defense shifted into a bend-but-don’t-break type of unit. They allowed KC to move much more easily than they had all game, but Wilks’ crew did stand tall in the red zone to hold KC to a game-tying FG. Spagnuolo wasn’t done though, sending a blitz on 3rd and 4 with 2 minutes remaining. CB Trent McDuffie batted Purdy’s pass, and Moody redeemed himself with a 53-yard FG.

As we all know though, leaving Mahomes 1:57 of clock is just far too much. He calmly led his Chiefs into the red zone for an FG. Butker’s kick tied the game at 19 with 3 seconds left, and it REALLY made the missed PAT from earlier loom large. The fans didn’t mind though, as it meant overtime! In fact, it was our first OT playoff game under the new rules, where each team is guaranteed a possession unless a defensive score occurs. With that ensured possession in mind, I didn’t like SF’s decision to receive after winning the toss. I’d rather know what kind of score I needed, just like in the college version of OT.

The decision almost looked really dumb right away, as the team faced 3rd and 13 three plays into their opening drive. A hold on McDuffie (drawn by Jennings, who was my choice for MVP had the Niners won) bailed them out, and Shanahan smartly rode CMC for a while. McCaffrey was a real workhorse, grinding out 80 yards on 22 carries while leading his team with 8 receptions for another 80 yards and a TD. Nonetheless, another drive stalled, and SF could only add a field goal. Mahomes had the stage set perfectly, with a chance to go and win the game right then and there.

He almost didn’t. Facing 4th and 1 at their own 34, the Chiefs were a single play away from defeat. Reid called a gutsy read-option play for Mahomes, who took it 8 yards. Mahomes converted another 3rd and 1 with his legs, and he led the Chiefs with 66 rushing yards on 8 carries. Once KC got to first and goal at the 3, the end felt inevitable. Hardman (3/57/1) walked in with the game-winning TD, and the Vince Lombardi trophy shall remain in Kansas City for another year. Predictably, Mahomes (34/46, 333 yards, 2 TDs, INT) won MVP to go along with perhaps his most improbably title.

On the losing side, Purdy (23/38, 255 yards, TD) played a clean game, and the defense fought for as long as it could despite how thing it was in the secondary. I warned you all about the potential for Moody to cost the Niners when it counted, and his missed PAT may have cost the team a ring. That said, don’t put this all on him. Shanahan’s credentials need to be examined here. His Niners led in the 4th or later in 2 Super Bowls versus KC and lost both. He was also the OC in the Falcons’ famous 28-3 implosion. If this team couldn’t get the job done, will it ever? This was quite a talented squad.

If you want to see an example of great coaching, look no further than Andy Reid. Now the owner of 3 Super Bowl victories, Reid changed the identity of his team midseason, shifting to a defense-first mentality. Riding that all the way to the championship is almost unheard of. It helps when you have a generational talent like Mahomes under center. I’m still not ready to put him in the same conversation as Tom Brady, but he’s undoubtedly a superstar who alone puts his team in contention every year. One last Chiefs note: pay Chris Jones please. The man is a game-wrecker on the defensive line, and there’s no trophy without him.

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