For much of Sunday's Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs appeared to be on the verge of defeat.
A sluggish offense failed to produce a touchdown in the first half, then turned the ball over on the first drive of the second half to keep the San Francisco 49ers in control of the game. But Kansas City's defense kept San Francisco in check, allowing just enough room for Patrick Mahomes to mount a comeback.
The Chiefs faced a narrow path to victory that required execution in critical moments and a few breaks to go their way. In the end, the Chiefs made the plays that mattered most en route to a thrilling 25-22 win. Here are the five key plays that fueled Kansas City to victory:
Chiefs recover muffed punt
With 2:42 remaining in the third quarter, the 49ers led 10-6 and forced a punt on a Chiefs drive that ended with a three-and-out. Kansas City lined up to punt, still in search of its first touchdown. That touchdown would arrive one play later.
The 49ers muffed the punt, and Chiefs special-teamer Jaylen Watson jumped on the ball for a recovery deep in San Francisco territory.
Replay showed that the ball hit 49ers special-teamer Darrell Luter Jr. on the leg before it hit the turf. Return man Ray-Ray McCloud realized the ball was live and tried to recover it. But he couldn't grab it off the turf, and Watson jumped on it for the recovery.
One play later, Mahomes found Marquez Valdes-Scantling for Kansas City's first touchdown of the game and a 13-10 lead.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) February 12, 2024
Chiefs block Jake Moody's extra point
The 49ers weren't fazed. They answered on their next possession with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a Brock Purdy touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings. But the 49ers didn't take full advantage of the score.
Chiefs linebacker Leo Chenal blocked Jake Moody's kick on the ensuing extra-point attempt, limiting the 49ers to a 16-13 lead and keeping the margin within a field goal.
The block was the second big play of the game for Chenal, who also forced a Christian McCaffrey fumble on the game's opening drive. It proved critical in Kansas City's win.
The Chiefs kicked a game-tying field goal on their next possession, then tied the game again at 19-19 with three seconds remaining in regulation with another Harrison Butker field goal to force overtime. Without the blocked extra point, the Chiefs couldn't have tied the game with field goals, and they might not be Super Bowl champions.
Trent McDuffie gets third-down pressure on Brock Purdy in regulation
The Chiefs might not have had a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation if not for a defensive stop by All-Pro cornerback Trent McDuffie. Coming out of the two-minute warning, the 49ers faced third-and-4 at the Kansas City 35-yard line with the game tied 16-16.
A first down would've given the 49ers a chance to run more clock before setting up a potential go-ahead or even game-winning field goal. A Chiefs stop would've given Mahomes the ball back with roughly two minutes remaining. Kansas City got the stop.
McDuffie blitzed and immediately got pressure on Purdy, and Purdy threw a desperate pass that stood no chance of connecting with his target.
McDUFFIE WITH THE BIG PLAY 😤 pic.twitter.com/l7m7lAfnT3
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) February 12, 2024
The 49ers still scored on a 53-yard field goal by Moody. But there was plenty of time remaining for Mahomes to lead the game-tying drive.
Chris Jones gets third-down pressure on Purdy in OT
The 49ers came close to capitalizing on the decision with a touchdown but came up short after Chris Jones got pressure on Purdy to force a third-down incompletion in the red zone. On third-and-4 from the Kansas City 9-yard line, Purdy took a shotgun snap and faced immediate pressure up the middle from Jones. He got rid of the ball with a desperate pass that his intended target, Jennings, had no chance of catching.
Patrick Mahomes will get the headlines.
But Chris Jones:
1) Game saving pressure vs Josh Allen and the Bills
2) Should have had a safety vs the Ravens on a no-call
3) Saved Brock Purdy OT TD to Jennings (unblocked)
Super Bowl hero vs 49ers pic.twitter.com/1X0ugCSMbg
— Carter B (@CarterthePower) February 12, 2024
Jennings beat his defender and would've had a good chance of catching a pass that was thrown on target. Brandon Aiyuk was also streaking wide open across the middle of the end zone after his defender fell. But Purdy didn't have time to connect with either of them, and the 49ers settled for a field goal and a 22-19 lead.
Once again, aggression by Steve Spagnuolo's defense again paid off at a critical moment. The pressure was Jones' team-high sixth of the game on a night when he repeatedly made Purdy's life difficult.
Mahomes converts on fourth down in OT
All of this would've been for naught if the Chiefs didn't score when they got the ball in overtime. That prospect faced immediate peril when Isaiah Pacheco's run on third-and-1 at the Kansas City 34-yard line failed to produce a first down.
On fourth-and-1 with the game on the line, the Chiefs opted to keep the ball in their best player's hands. Mahomes took a shotgun snap, then faked a handoff to Pacheco. But he didn't pass it. Mahomes followed Travis Kelce around the right end and easily picked up a first down with an 8-yard scramble.
Ten plays and 58 yards later, Mahomes found Mecole Hardman for the game-winning, walk-off touchdown.
In the end, Sunday's Super Bowl was one that evolved from a first-half slog to an overtime thriller that would've swung one way or another on any of a number of plays. In the end, as they almost always do, the Chiefs came up with the plays that mattered most.