Super Bowl bound: Chiefs, 49ers claim stunning victories
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The Chiefs and 49ers stamped their tickets to Super Bowl LVIII following victories in their respective NFL conference championship games.
The Chiefs handled the favored home team, the Baltimore Ravens, beating them by the score of 17-10 behind the superb play of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce. Their play, backed by a defensive unit that continued its season-long excellence, knocked off the Ravens before a stunned sellout crowd of over 71,000 at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Chiefs won the coin toss and put their star-studded defense on the field first. The “D” stopped the Ravens’ high-powered offense with a “3-and-out,” forcing a punt.
Mahomes, Kelce and the offense took over and marched down the field against the more-celebrated Ravens defensive unit to score the game’s first touchdown. Mahomes, considered by many to be the greatest player of his generation, added another page to his legacy, finishing the contest 30 for 39 and passing for 241 yards and one touchdown.
His 19-yard touchdown pass to Kelce was part of a record-setting day for the star tight end, who caught 11 passes for 116 yards. The All-Pro now has eight 100-yard receiving games in the playoffs, and he eclipsed Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice (151) with the most playoff catches in NFL history with 156 and counting.
Mahomes, playing in only his second road playoff game, was his usually composed self, running the Chiefs offense like a skilled surgeon as he sliced up the vaunted Ravens defense. “I knew they were going to blitz a lot today and I was ready for it,” Mahomes said afterwards. “We met their challenge as our guys stepped up and made plays.”
The 28-year-old signal caller, who will now face the 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII — his fourth Super Bowl in five years — went on to say:
“God put a lot of adversity in our way this year, and we accepted the challenge, and we’re better for it.”
There were questions about how Mahomes and the Chiefs would handle the stress of playing on the road in the playoffs — the first time in the Mahomes era. The answer to that question has come in the form of two impressive road victories over the Bills and Ravens in successive weeks. The Ravens made several critical mistakes, including a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, a goal-line fumble by wide receiver Zay Flowers, and a gut-wrenching interception thrown by quarterback and NFL favorite Lamar Jackson in the late stages of the contest.
The next challenge for the defending NFL champions will come from the San Francisco 49ers.
A Chiefs victory will make them the first repeat NFL champions since the New England Patriots of 2003 and 2004.
And speaking of the 49ers, they had their hands full with the visiting Detroit Lions before emerging 34-31 winners before an emotionally exhausted Levi Stadium crowd in Santa Clara, California.
The 49ers won the toss and elected to kick off to Detroit. The Lions took the opening kick-off and marched the field length in four plays for the game’s opening touchdown. The Niners were knocked off balance and were staggered by the Lions for the whole first half. Lions quarterback Jared Goff, along with running backs Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery, who each rushed for over 100 yards, and outstanding contributions from the receiver corps (with special mention to Amon-Ra St. Brown and rookie tight end Sam La Porta), the Lions stormed to a stunning 24-7 lead at intermission.
But there are two halves to an NFL game. Coach Kyle Shanahan told his team in the 49ers’ locker room, “We’re not going out like this. We got to be a lot more aggressive here in the second half in everything we do, offensively, defensively, special teams.”
The 49ers stormed from their locker and marched up and down the field like their namesake- the old prospectors, and drove through all types of terrain, in their quest for gold.
They outscored the Lions 27-7 over the next 30 minutes to register one of the all-time great comebacks in NFL history.
The Lions helped the situation with their “go-for-broke theory of going for first downs on fourth down situations” instead of kicking field goals — something the team has done throughout the season. Note to head coach Dan Campbell: The “go-for-broke mentality” proved critical in this game.
The 49ers, buoyed by a critical fumble by Gibbs, the two stops on fourth down situations, and a sensational catch by wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, took control of the game and sent the Lions back to Detroit with their dreams of Super Bowl glory dashed by a psychologically crushing defeat.
In a strange twist of history, the Lions wiped out a 24-7 deficit to beat the 49ers on their way to the NFL title in 1957. The red, white, and gold returned the favor on Sunday.
San Francisco will attempt to capture their Super Bowl title against the Chiefs on Feb. 11 in Las Vegas and gain some semblance of revenge for their loss to them in Super Bowl LIV.
If they win, they will reflect on this game against the Detroit Lions as a signature moment.