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Saturday, March 2, 2024

SI:AM | Three Special Teams Plays That Swung the Super Bowl

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. Did anyone else’s Super Bowl party spend a few minutes watching the Nickelodeon broadcast?

In today’s SI:AM:

🏆 The Chiefs’ dynasty

😞 Another disappointment for the Niners

🔮 Looking forward to next season

If you’re reading this on SI.com, click here to subscribe to receive SI:AM in your inbox every weekday.

Obscure players to the rescue

Super Bowl LVIII lived up to the billing. So evenly matched—a game so tight it took 75 minutes to decide a winner.

In the end, it was the Kansas City Chiefs who emerged on top, beating the San Francisco 49ers, 25–22, on Patrick Mahomes’s three-yard touchdown pass to Mecole Hardman with three seconds left in the first overtime period.

Mahomes was predictably excellent, completing 34 of 46 passes for 333 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He faced tremendous pressure from the Niners’ defensive front all night long but was only sacked three times (and only lost a total of eight yards on those sacks). He did a fantastic job to avoid losing yardage when pressured by the likes of Nick Bosa and Chase Young, whether that was scrambling to pick up yards with his feet or getting enough breathing room to throw the ball away. A 73.9% completion rate while facing that sort of pressure is remarkable.

Mahomes was especially great during that game-winning drive in overtime. He completed all nine of his pass attempts on the 13-play, 75-yard drive and also had two clutch runs. The first was on a read-option play on fourth-and-inches, when Bosa bit hard on the fake to Isiah Pacheco and Mahomes was able to pick up eight easy yards. The second was on a third-and-1 near the edge of field goal range when Mahomes scrambled for 19 yards to get the Chiefs down to the 13-yard line. Three plays later, Hardman was in the end zone and the game was over.

But as spectacular as Mahomes was, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to win his third championship if not for a handful of plays. There were three plays made on special teams that wound up being the difference in the game.

The first was Harrison Butker’s 57-yard field goal late in the third quarter. Or, more accurately, it was punter Tommy Townsend’s hold on Butker’s kick. The snap from long snapper James Winchester was high, but Townsend snagged it and put it down right where Butker needed it to be. On a kick that long (the longest in Super Bowl history), there’s no room for error. Townsend’s hold allowed Butker to give the Chiefs some much-needed points, cutting the deficit to 10–6.

Just over two minutes later, Kansas City benefited from another pivotal special teams play—this one was mostly luck. After the Chiefs’ offense went three-and-out, Townsend came on to punt. It was shaping up to be a deflating turn of events after Kansas City had just forced San Francisco to punt. But then Townsend’s kick bounced off the heel of a 49ers player (Darrell Luter), meaning it was suddenly fair game for anyone to recover. Chiefs cornerback Jaylen Watson pounced on it at the Niners’ 16-yard line. On the very next play, Mahomes threw a touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to give the Chiefs their first lead of the game, 13–10.

The third game-changing special teams play came on the ensuing Niners’ possession—and it’s the one that will probably haunt San Francisco fans the most. After an impressive 12-play, 75-yard drive ended in a touchdown, Jake Moody’s extra point attempt was blocked by the Chiefs’ Leo Chenal, making the score 16–13. That one point loomed large in the final minutes, as the Chiefs were able to tie the game with a field goal. The Niners kicked another field goal to retake the lead before Butker’s 29-yard kick with three seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime.

In a game that was so evenly matched, every play truly mattered, and it was that trio of plays by near-anonymous Chiefs players that secured their second straight championship.

The best of Sports Illustrated

Erick W. Rasco/Sports Illustrated

The top five…

… non-Super Bowl things I saw yesterday:

5. J.T. Miller’s game-winning goal for the Canucks with five seconds left in overtime.

4. Malik Monk’s slick dribbling and layup.

3. Alexey Toropchenko’s ridiculous stick-handling on his goal against the Canadiens.

2. Coyotes center Nick Schmaltz’s sister, Kylie, shotgunning a beer in a suite after he scored a goal. (The Coyotes had players’ siblings join the team for their road trip to Nashville.)

1. Jaz Shelley’s late three to put Nebraska ahead of Caitlin Clark and Iowa. The Cornhuskers handed the Hawkeyes just their third loss of the season.


Former NBA center Scot Pollard, who turns 49 today, also starred on what reality show?

  • Survivor
  • Big Brother
  • The Apprentice
  • The Bachelor

Friday’s SIQ: Which of the following cities was not granted an expansion franchise when the NHL doubled in size from six to 12 teams on Feb. 9, 1966?

  • Pittsburgh
  • San Francisco
  • Vancouver
  • Los Angeles

Answer: Vancouver. NHL owners voted to approve expansion bids by Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, St. Louis, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Applications by ownership groups from Baltimore, Buffalo and Vancouver were also considered but ultimately denied.

The decision to exclude Vancouver (the only Canadian city to apply for an expansion franchise) was met with outrage in the city. One fan told the CBC: “I think it’s damn disgusting!”

“The big shots in the east are telling us what we’re going to get and what we’re not going to get,” another said.

People in Vancouver and Buffalo didn’t have to wait long for a team of their own, though, with the Canucks and Sabres joining the league in 1970. But both cities are still waiting for their first Stanley Cup.

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