MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Chiefs were dead. The 49ers were on their way to winning Super Bowl 2020 and then everything changed on two plays.
The 49ers defense had been harassing, confusing and confounding the Kansas City offense all game. The Niners led 20-10 in the fourth quarter and were in complete control of the game.
And then it happened.
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who’d thrown just five interceptions in 14 regular-season games but threw two Sunday night, connected with receiver Tyreek Hill for 44 yards on a third-and-15 play from the Kansas City 35-yard line.
That play lit a fire. It gave the Chiefs a first down on the San Francisco 21-yard line with 6:35 remaining in the game and changed everything. It woke up the dormant Kansas City offense and stung the 49ers like an unexpected uppercut to the chin.
“We definitely got a bolt of energy from that,’’ Chiefs receiver Demarcus Robinson said.
“You never know when there’s an opportunity … it’s crazy,’’ Hill said.
“They were playing this kind of ‘robber’ coverage all game where the safety was coming down and robbing our deep crossing routes, and we had a good play call on it where we had Travis Kelce do a little steeper cross and we got Tyreek one-on-one with that safety [Jimmie Ward],’’ Mahomes said.
Four plays after the Hill catch, Mahomes connected with Kelce on a 1-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 20-17 with 6:17 remaining.
Then the Kansas City defense took over and stopped the 49ers offense.
“They had control of the game and were supposed to finish, but they gave us a little spark,’’ Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland said.
The next spark came from Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins, who caught a 38-yard pass from Mahomes to set Kansas City up with a first-and-goal from the 49ers 10-yard line with 3:44 remaining. Three plays later, the Chiefs took the 24-20 lead on a Mahomes scoring pass to running back Damien Williams.
“That’s just Sammy being ‘Starship 14,’ making a play for the offense when we needed it,’’ Hill said.
Watkins got behind 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman on the 38-yard play.
“I wasn’t really tired,’’ Sherman said. “Just mistakes. Simple mistakes. Self-inflicted. We just didn’t execute our game. We’ve got to execute our game for four quarters.’’
Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy said he told backup quarterbacks Chad Henne and Matt Moore on the sideline, “We need to go to Sammy more. Sherman is good, but there’s no way Sherman is going to cover Sammy. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s jamming. Sammy’s probably the best one-on-one receiver we have. We went to him and made some plays.
“It was a different game after he made that catch.’’