Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. Kyle Shanahan and losing in heartbreaking fashion. Sunday’s Super Bowl saw some of the most iconic duos in the NFL take center stage. But who’s a winner and who’s a loser coming out of the game? As always, it goes deeper than just the final score. Let’s break it down.
Winner: Patrick Mahomes, the Youngest GOAT
There is no better metaphor for this Chiefs season than receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling catching a pass in overtime 6 yards downfield and running backward 9 yards to set up a second-and-13 on what should have been a second-and-3. On the replay, Mahomes looked heartbroken as he put his hands on his helmet. For a Chiefs receiving unit that led the NFL in drops, it seemed like MVS actually hanging on to the ball might be the thing that doomed Kansas City.
But it didn’t. Mahomes went right back to MVS on the next play and surgically continued a touchdown drive to end the 49ers’ season. This whole Chiefs season was the receivers going 10 yards backward, and Mahomes going 40 yards forward. It is only appropriate that is the way they won the Super Bowl, too.
This Chiefs championship is about Mahomes testing the limits of how much one player can carry a single offensive unit. Even the Chiefs’ Achilles’ heel all year—short-yardage plays—was solved in this game, as Mahomes kept the ball on fourth-and-1 and third-and-1 on the final drive, saving their season each time. There are so many ways to capture the greatness of this team, but perhaps the simplest is this: The Chiefs traded away Tyreek Hill, who has since become the consensus greatest receiver in the NFL, replaced him with a bunch of receivers who are defined by being unable to catch footballs, and the Chiefs have won back-to-back Super Bowls since that trade. The meme used to be Mahomes throwing deep saying, “Eff it, Tyreek is down there somewhere.” Now Mahomes, who had nine carries for 66 yards, is winning the Super Bowl as K.C.’s leading rusher.
On Sunday, Mahomes chiseled himself onto the quarterback Mount Rushmore. Mahomes just won his third Super Bowl in five seasons. The only quarterbacks with more Super Bowl wins are Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Terry Bradshaw. The only quarterbacks with more playoff wins than Mahomes are Brady and Montana. There are a lot of stats like that going around, and the theme is clear: the best three quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era are Brady, Montana, and Mahomes. He has accomplished more in six seasons as a starter than many of the game’s greatest did in their entire careers. Even if Mahomes never plays another down of football, he’s on the short list of the greatest of all time.
Mahomes is just 28 years old. Peyton Manning and John Elway didn’t even win their first Super Bowl until they were in their 30s. The most terrifying thing about this Chiefs run is that this was the worst Chiefs offense we’ve ever seen with Mahomes, and they still won the Super Bowl. It didn’t matter. While anything could happen and no player in the NFL is promised longevity—as Kyle Shanahan once said, “I can’t guarantee that anybody in the world will be alive on Sunday”—it is also possible that Mahomes plays into his 40s, and that we just witnessed the first third of his career. If Mahomes’s career was a football game, it’s possible we’re still early in the second quarter.
Mahomes will never be the GOAT. He lost a Super Bowl to Tom Brady’s Bucs, so even if he passes Brady’s seven championships, Brady has the trump card. (If LeBron’s Cavs lost a championship to Michael Jordan’s Wizards, there wouldn’t be a GOAT debate in the NBA.) But after Sunday’s win, Mahomes has already made it a debate with Joe Montana. Mahomes is now 15-3 in the playoffs. His record in the playoffs—the pinnacle of the sport—is better than the best teams in the regular season. (The Ravens won the top seed in the AFC this season by going 13-4.) And that is exactly how it looks watching these games. “If you get down 10, it wakes us up just a little bit,” Mahomes said on ESPN after the game. “We could make it easy sometimes, but what is the fun in that?”
After seeing all of this, there is a serious chance we’ll never see Mahomes and the Chiefs as underdogs in the playoffs ever again. But even if they are, it shouldn’t matter. Mahomes has now been an underdog in the betting market 12 times and is 9-3 in those games. Not 9-3 against the spread—9-3 to win the game. Literally and figuratively, nobody should bet against this guy ever again. As Mahomes said on the podium Sunday, “The Chiefs are never underdogs.”
Again: This was the worst Chiefs team of the Mahomes era, and they just won the Super Bowl. (Did I mention that Marquez Valdes-Scantling was running backward in overtime?) The Chiefs will likely get more receiving help, and the offense will improve simply because replacing MVS and Kadarius Toney with literally anyone else should be a huge improvement. The defense is the youngest by snap-adjusted age in the NFL. This Chiefs team projects to be significantly better in 2024. Mahomes is winning with his brain these days as much as his arm. Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers, Josh Allen and the Bills, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, Justin Herbert and the Chargers—all of these teams are in danger of being characters in Mahomes’s story, just as Brady’s opponents were for the past 20 years, or how the 1990s NBA is littered with championship-caliber teams who couldn’t get past Michael Jordan. A month ago, Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase was asked who he wants to win the Super Bowl. “Anybody but the Chiefs,” Chase said. Surely he is just saying out loud what a lot of players feel deep down. And that is from a Bengal—the Bengals are the only non–Tom Brady entity to beat Mahomes in the playoffs! Imagine how everyone else feels. Hope around the league is at its lowest since Brady was a Patriot.
Winner: The Legend of Andy Reid
Here is the list of coaches with more Super Bowl wins than Andy Reid:
- Bill Belichick
- Chuck Noll
That’s it! Reid has 26 postseason wins—second only to Belichick. Sunday’s win essentially confirms Reid as the second-best coach of the 21st century after Belichick. It’s incredible considering that just five years ago, Reid was still considered a choke artist in the playoffs. Reid’s Eagles made four straight NFC championship games but could never turn that into a championship. (And the one time they got to the big game, their hopes blew up amid the most perplexing clock management ever seen in a Super Bowl.) Even in Kansas City, Reid had the same penchant for incredible regular-season performances but playoff meltdowns. In the wild-card round, Reid’s Chiefs blew an 18-point halftime lead to the Titans in 2018 and a 28-point lead to Andrew Luck’s Colts in 2014—an even larger playoff collapse than the Patriots-Falcons 28-3 game. Andy Reid was defined by this stuff.
Not anymore! Plenty of people will point to the fact that Reid never won a championship until Mahomes showed up. And that is absolutely true. But Reid deserves a lot of credit for drafting and developing Mahomes into one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. Reid was the quarterbacks coach for the Packers in the 1990s, and the Chiefs front office traded up to take Mahomes in 2017 because they saw Mahomes for what he was: a smarter Brett Favre. (In many ways this might be the most accurate quarterback evaluation ever, because so much of what Mahomes has delivered is Favre’s magic, minus the brain farts that made Favre the all-time interceptions leader.)
Reid had the vision to make Mahomes sit for a year behind Alex Smith and learn the NFL game. But the difference between Smith and Mahomes is the difference between pretty good and a decade-defining dynasty. Kansas City was 53-27 in the Reid era before Mahomes started, and the team had made the playoffs in four of the last five seasons before he was the starter. His trust in Mahomes is why we’re talking about Reid as one of the greatest coaches ever and not still a perennial runner-up. (At the same time, it can’t be overstated what going to an organization like the Chiefs did for Mahomes. Who knows what he would’ve become if, say, the Bears had drafted him.) There are dozens of things we can credit to Reid and the Chiefs infrastructure in the past five years—hiring Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator, knowing how to build a team without Tyreek Hill—but none of that would’ve mattered if he couldn’t develop Mahomes.
It’s also worth noting that the Chiefs won in overtime on a touchdown play called “corndog.” First: It’s extremely Andy Reid to name the play “corndog.” But also: It’s even more extremely Andy Reid to call the same play on Sunday that he called to score a touchdown in last year’s Super Bowl win. Congrats, Andy Reid—not only did you help get Swifties into football this year, but you also may have introduced them to the most beautifully named play in Super Bowl history.
Loser: Kyle Shanahan, the New Andy Reid
In Greek mythology, Atlas was punished by the gods, who condemned him to hold up the sky. At one point, he got Hercules to take over for him. This is basically what just happened between Reid and Shanahan.
Reid—an offensive genius who couldn’t get over the hump for years—has now beaten Shanahan in the Super Bowl twice, and he has in the process unloaded the weight of the sky onto Shanahan’s shoulders. Shanahan is the most influential coach of his generation. He’s also a loser. Shanahan has now blown three different double-digit leads in three different Super Bowls (counting the Falcons’ meltdown against the Patriots, when he was calling the offensive plays). He has lost the only two overtime Super Bowls ever. He also blew a 10-point lead in the NFC championship game to his friend Sean McVay a few years ago. Now he will hear forever about, among other things, choosing to take the ball in overtime instead of kicking. (Mahomes said after the game if they had won the toss, they would have chosen to kick, which is what happened even though they lost the toss.)
“We have a thousand scars,” Shanahan told Fox’s Erin Andrews at halftime of the Niners’ divisional game against the Packers. Add another one to the list—and this one is perhaps the biggest. This game is a good reminder that Shanahan likely has a long career ahead of him and that reputations can change with the right mix of preparation and opportunity. But Reid had to cycle through a number of quarterbacks before he found the right one. Shanahan has worked magic with Brock Purdy and very nearly did the same with Jimmy Garoppolo before him. (That he was able to do this despite the fact that the Niners blew the Trey Lance pick speaks volumes about the organization.)
Shanahan almost certainly needs his Patrick Mahomes. But until Shanahan finds one—and until he wins a championship—he is Andy Reid. And maybe he needs to beat him, too. After all, the story of Atlas and Hercules ends with Hercules tricking Atlas into taking over his old role. (Though, unlike Atlas, it seems that Reid will avoid the whole “being banished for eternity” thing.) It may be too much to ask, but until Shanahan can convince someone to hold the sky for him, the gods have spoken.
Loser: Dre Greenlaw’s Super Bowl Dreams
“Our sense of urgency is very, very high,” George Kittle said to Sal Paolantonio on ESPN on Sunday morning. Kittle’s point was that this 49ers team had been through a lot: losing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Chiefs four years ago, another blown lead in the NFC championship game to the Rams two years back, running out of healthy quarterbacks in the NFC championship game last year. Kittle mentioned how difficult it is to get back to the Super Bowl and how nothing is guaranteed.
There is perhaps no better example of how nothing is guaranteed than the horrific injury suffered by linebacker Greenlaw, who presumably ruptured his Achilles (with MRIs pending). What’s even more devastating is that it didn’t come on a tackle or even a routine football play. It came in the most mundane way possible: while he was running onto the field.
I have been watching sports my whole life and cannot remember anything similar. It feels unbelievably cruel. Getting hurt between the lines is one thing. But to taste the Super Bowl, and prove to yourself and everyone that you will be a factor in the game, and to be injured—not even during the competition itself—is a different level of heartbreak. But for a 49ers team that has now had half a decade of heartbreak, Greenlaw’s injury might be a simpler and shorter rehab than whatever will repair these players’ souls.
Winner: Field Goals
Jake Moody made the longest kick in Super Bowl history on Sunday. The Niners rookie booted a 55-yarder in the first half, an incredible feat for any kicker, but especially a first-year player who had missed makeable field goal attempts in each of his past two games. But Moody’s record lasted about an hour. In the third quarter, Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker booted a 57-yarder from the NFL logo. Butker’s kick seemed like it could have been good from another 6 or 7 yards out. (It was also this close to being blocked—maybe because of a bad snap.) Butker has now made an absurd nine straight field goals from 50-plus yards. Throw in another Moody 53-yard kick in the fourth quarter and Butker’s field goal to send the game to overtime with three seconds left, and we have just witnessed the greatest field goal performances in Super Bowl history.
Which makes sense, because it was a banner year for kickers. In the entirety of the 20th century, there were four field goals of 60 yards or longer. This season alone, there were five. Two decades ago, there were 53 made field goals in the regular season from 50 yards or longer. This season, there were 158. Leaguewide, kickers are the best they have ever been from long distances—and we just saw it on the biggest stage.
Loser: Extra Points
Of course, despite the long-range field goal heroics, the decisive play on Sunday may have come after the Niners’ final touchdown, when Moody had a chance to push the lead to four but had his extra point attempt blocked. The miss made it so the Chiefs had the option to kick a tying field goal at the end of regulation rather than being forced to try to score a touchdown. Maybe Mahomes would’ve worked his magic anyway, but it’s hard not to imagine a world in which the Niners would be hoisting their sixth Lombardi Trophy if that kick had gone differently.
Winner: Jauan Jennings, Dual Threat
Who was the highest-ranked high school quarterback recruit in Sunday’s game? Patrick Mahomes? Brock Purdy? Sam Darnold? No, it was 49ers receiver Jauan Jennings, who attended Blackman High School in Tennessee and was The Tennessean’s high school football player of the year as a quarterback, where he was a top-five nationally ranked dual-threat QB prospect in 2015. That experience came in handy on Sunday.
Jauan Jennings was the #5 QB recruit coming out of HS (they switched him to WR at Tennessee) pic.twitter.com/6B13QX3NXA— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) February 12, 2024
On second-and-10 in the second quarter, Purdy tossed a screen pass to Jennings, who caught the ball near the left sideline, waited a beat, then launched a ball toward the opposite sideline, where McCaffrey was standing. McCaffrey scooted past the Chiefs defense and scored a touchdown.
The CMC Anytime TD cashes again— PlayerProfiler (@rotounderworld) February 12, 2024
Who had Jauan Jennings throwing a TD???
Jennings’s pass was in the air for a full second that felt like a minute—and it seemed ripe for a pick. But the toss ended up changing the complexion of the game, giving the Niners a lead they’d hold until late in the third quarter.
Also, it turns out Jennings ran the same play at the University of Tennessee in a game against Florida. Shanahan seemingly ripped this right from Jennings’s days with the Volunteers.
Pretty cool: Jauan Jennings ran the same trick passing play at Tennessee years back. Ran to perfection then and in tonight’s Super Bowl pic.twitter.com/qqEVyTQCmF— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) February 12, 2024
Now, were there probably two penalties on Sunday’s play? San Francisco center Jake Brendel might technically be a few yards downfield, which should have resulted in an illegal-man-downfield penalty. And tackle Colton McKivitz is probably holding Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis. But you know what? It’s fine! Everyone would be mad if ticky-tacky calls disrupted the most exciting play of the game. Imagine if the Philly Special got called back for an illegal-formation penalty!
Jennings was also responsible for San Francisco’s second touchdown, when he bullied his way into the end zone after a catch early in the fourth quarter. He became just the second player in Super Bowl history to throw for a TD and catch one in the same game, joining Nick Foles (speaking of the Philly Special). On a night when the Niners came so close to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, Jennings did it all for them. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t join Foles in the less exclusive but more important club: the one for Super Bowl champions.
Winner: Dora the Explorer, Rules Expert
One of the hardest parts of being a football fan is understanding the rules. This is such a big problem that all the football TV broadcasters have paid to have former referees come to them from fancy-schmancy studios to weigh in on rule issues, from Mike Pereira at Fox to Terry McAulay at NBC to Gene Steratore at CBS. But on Sunday, we found the best one of all: Dora the Explorer.
Given how complex the NFL rule book can be, Dora’s simplicity in explaining penalties was a welcome addition to the Nickelodeon broadcast. They should’ve considered trotting Dora out to explain why the fact that the Chiefs were running out of time in overtime meant—as Tony Romo said on CBS—that “the first quarter” of overtime was close to ending (????). Maybe next year we can get her on the main broadcast to explain to us what a catch is, once and for all.
Winner: Michael Cera
It seemed like every other commercial this year featured a celebrity who debased themselves in ways that made you ask, “Wait, did they need the money that badly?” Tom Brady for BetMGM. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (and Brady again) in Dunkin’ Donuts tracksuits. Jeremy Renner doing his own stunts and singing James Brown while hawking almond milk. (As much as that last one pains me to say, given my stated love for Renner and his app.) Chris Pratt, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Walken, and on and on—it was hard to name a celebrity who didn’t want to try to do some meta, 30-second spot (and earn a massive paycheck in the process).
The exception, of course, was Michael Cera, who, despite his ever-evolving facial-hair situation, may have had the most charming ad of the night. The onetime Superbad star appeared during Sunday’s broadcast to pitch the moisturizing cream CeraVe. (Our favorite moment was when Cera massaged, uh, another Michael Cera.) In a long production where all the celebrities seemed desperate for clout or cash, the Cera-CeraVe team-up felt natural. Maybe we at The Ringer just have a sweet spot for Arrested Development, but he gets a pass—and, more than that, maybe a customer. Because I, for one, will be thinking about this ad as I walk the aisles of CVS for the rest of my life.
Winner: Travis Kelce
The game for Kelce started horribly. He caught Mahomes’s first pass of the game, for 1 yard, then barely did anything for the rest of the game. At one point—after Kelce was taken out of the game for a play that resulted in a lost fumble—the cameras caught him screaming at Andy Reid.
But that was early in the game, when tensions were running high. After the game, Kelce laughed off the incident. “I was just telling him how much I love him,” he said.
The champagne of victory cleanses these public messes. Now the screaming is just a funny story, and we can assess Kelce properly: as having just capped perhaps the best year any athlete has ever had (factoring in off-field accomplishments, of course). Consider that in the past 12 months, Travis Kelce has:
- Won a Super Bowl, against his brother Jason’s Eagles
- Started dating the most famous woman in the world
- Seen his podcast with Jason become one of the most popular in the industry
- Passed Jerry Rice for most postseason receptions ever
- Won another Super Bowl
Kelce had a down year on the field, by his standards. He failed to eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time since 2015. At times, it seemed fair to wonder whether, at age 34, the end was nigh for one of the greatest tight ends ever. But even if the production dipped, his stature did anything but. By virtue of his relationship, he’s now one of the most famous athletes on the planet, and he’s proved himself media savvy in ways that seemed unimaginable when he was tweeting about feeding bread to squirles.
We toss around the phrase “American Dream” often, but how can you look at Kelce’s trajectory and think he’s living anything but? When beating your brother in the Super Bowl is like the third-best part of your past year, you are crushing life. Hopefully him singing “Viva Las Vegas” onstage did not give Taylor the ick.