By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Every year, the Super Bowl ends up being about a whole lot of things. Fortunately, the actual football game is still one of those things.
After all of the press conferences, the silliness of media day, the wonder of halftime and national anthem performers, a whole lot of TV and radio shows, and everything else that Super Bowl week entails, we do still get to watch a football game at the end of it.
And this one ought to be a good one.
That is, ultimately, what most fans hope to see once the game actually begins. Contrary to popular opinion about last year’s Super Bowl, the most boring games are the one that involves one team completely running over the opponent. The ones that come down to the wire become the stuff of legend.
Hopefully we’re all fortunate enough to get that this time around.
Here’s what to watch for once the best two teams in football take the field on Sunday in Miami.
Can The Chiefs Bring The D?
Really, the entire game can hinge on the answer to this question. If the Chiefs don’t play at their absolute best defensively, then they may find themselves in a world of trouble.
While the addition of Tyrann Mathieu has helped the pass defense in a big way, the Chiefs still have some major problems stopping the run. They had the seventh-worst defense in terms of rushing yards allowed per game, and the fourth-worst defense in terms of yards per carry. Considering the 49ers carry the second-best rushing attack (144.1 yards per game) that scored more rushing touchdowns (23) than any other team this season, that could spell trouble.
The counter to that, though, would be that the Chiefs have proven capable of rising up to meet certain challenges in big games.
In the divisional round against Houston, the Chiefs limited the Texans — a top-10 rushing attack — to 94 rushing yards on 21 attempts.
A week later, they’d welcome Derrick Henry in to Kansas City. Henry had run for an utterly insane 588 yards and four touchdowns on 96 carries. He and the Titans rushing offense appeared to be borderline unstoppable.
Then came the AFC Championship Game, when the Chiefs held Henry to just 69 yards. As a team, the Titans rushed for 85 yards, their lowest number since Week 8.
That was a mightily impressive showing for the Chiefs’ defense. And with Raheem Mostert coming off a downright preposterous 220-yard, four-touchdown performance in the NFC title game, Kansas City will need an even better showing in this one.
Will Jimmy G. Bring His Arm?
Eight throws. In an entire football game. Eight throws.
That’s all that Jimmy Garoppolo had to do to improve his record as a starting quarterback to 23-5.
Not a bad way to make a living.
That performance came after an uninspiring showing in the divisional round, when Garoppolo completed just 11 of 19 passes for 131 yards with one touchdown and one pretty bad interception. That pick came just before halftime, and the Niners only had Garoppolo throw six passes in the second half; he completed three of them for 26 yards.
As a result, the overwhelming word on Garoppolo this week is that he’s kind of a glorified Brad Johnson or Trent Dilfer.
Do you think Jimmy just might be able to surprise a few naysayers this weekend?
Of course, if you’ve paid close attention to Garoppolo this year, you’d know that the prevailing narrative is not accurate. While he didn’t necessarily light up the box score every week, he did throw for more than 250 yards in seven games this year. The 49ers went 7-0 in those games, and Garoppolo threw 18 touchdowns with six interceptions. Similarly, when the Niners were held to under 120 rushing yards, they went 6-1 this season. Garoppolo completed 157 of 235 passes (66.8 percent), averaging 271.2 yards per game and 8.1 yards per attempt while throwing 13 touchdowns and seven picks in those games.
If the Chiefs sell out to stop the run, perhaps bringing Mathieu close to the line of scrimmage, Garoppolo could make them pay dearly with some play-action passes down the field. And if the Chiefs have to start worrying about Garoppolo’s arm, the entire defensive game plan could get thrown out quickly.
Whether he likes it or not, Garoppolo is going to be linked with Tom Brady for the foreseeable future. And when Garoppolo was Brady’s understudy, he likely got a deep understanding that performing in games of this magnitude is kind of what the profession is all about. It will be fascinating to see how Garoppolo — one of the cooler QBs in the sport — responds on this stage.
The Lethality Of Andy Reid’s Offense
In the divisional round, at home against the Texans, the Chiefs were in big, big trouble. They were in a big ol’ pile of trouble, to be more specific.
Trailing 24-0, the mighty Chiefs appeared poised to stumble against — of all teams — the Houston Texans.
Ah, but you know what happened next.
Then, 109 seconds later: Chiefs touchdown.
Then, 94 seconds later: Chiefs touchdown.
Then, once more, this time more a whopping five minutes later: Chiefs. Touchdown.
In a span of just over nine minutes, the Chiefs turned a 24-0 deficit into a 28-24 lead. They’d go on to win 51-31.
It was a sight to behold.
While that quick-strike capability was a little bit more subtle in the championship round, the Chiefs nevertheless turned a 17-7 deficit into a 21-17 lead in a span of just under four minutes before halftime. In doing so, they essentially won the football game.
That’s why even if the Chiefs’ defense falters early, putting Kansas City in a hole, nobody on the other side can get comfortable. The Chiefs are simply too explosive and too diverse to ever be out of any game.
Time of possession has proven to be quite meaningless when the Chiefs are involved, as they’ve engineered touchdown drives seven touchdown drives that took less than four minutes in their last two games. That includes an 86-yard drive that took just 1:40, a 90-yard drive that took just 2:03, and a 72-yard drive that took just 1:32.
The challenge for Robert Saleh and that top-ranked Niners pass defense will be to prevent those quick scores. It was a task that Dean Pees and Romeo Crennel couldn’t handle, and it’s without a doubt the No. 1 priority for San Francisco this week.
The Lethality Of Andy Reid Coaching In A Big Game
Really, we hate to do this. Well, a little bit anyway. But we cannot discuss a game of this magnitude without discussing Andy Reid’s record in such high-stakes contests.
It’s not good.
With the win against the Titans two weeks ago, Andy Reid improved his record in conference championship games to … 2-5.
In the Super Bowl, Reid is of course 0-1.
Now, granted, that lone Super Bowl loss was a long time ago, way back in 2004, when his Eagles lost to the dynastic Patriots. There’s no shame in losing to one of the best teams of all time, sure … but that was an eminently winnable game for those Eagles. The Patriots played extremely poorly, gaining just 331 yards of offense and committing seven penalties for 47 yards. One of those penalties negated a Patriots interception.
Alas, their issues that night were no match for Reid and Donovan McNabb, best-evidenced by McNabb throwing an interception on the very next snap after the negated pick.
It was magical.
Last year in the Chiefs’ biggest game of the year, Reid simply watched as his defense got torched on three consecutive third-and-10’s in overtime. With his defense clearly gassed, he remained a spectator as the Patriots easily gashed them up the middle for a 10-yard run. Still adamant to not use a timeout in overtime, Reid still refused to give his defense a chance to catch its breath (and maybe figure out what to do) in order to keep the Patriots out of the end zone. So Tom Brady handed the ball to Rex Burkhead, who scored an easy touchdown to end the Chiefs’ season in truly painful fashion.
This postseason, those scoring surges have prevented any close situations from arising for the Chiefs. Those have been the bugaboo for Reid, who is obviously a brilliant offensive mind and likely a Hall of Fame coach.
And Reid’s instincts to shake those big-game blues … well the early returns are not great:
Seems like not the best idea I’ve ever heard 🤷♂️ https://t.co/2fmQMQgbs1
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) January 30, 2020
If this game ends up coming down to the wire, all eyes will be on the Chiefs’ sideline to see if the 61-year-old has learned a new trick. If not? Well, we can’t say for sure what will happen, but we can guarantee that there will be some very mean tweets. And if you’re involved in the Super Bowl in any way, you really don’t want the night to end with mean tweets. It can be hard to come back from that.