The fourth quarter started with the Chiefs clinging to the same 17-7 lead they took into halftime and the Ravens facing second-and-8 from the Kansas City nine-yard line.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson found rookie wideout Zay Flowers for what appeared to be a walk-in touchdown. At the last moment, however, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed knocked the ball from Flowers’ hands. Fellow cornerback Trent McDuffie fell on the ball in the end zone, giving the Chiefs possession on a touchback.
“I saw [Flowers],” Sneed recalled after the game. “He had a step on me. All that was in my mind was just to catch up and make the tackle. And that’s what I did, and when I saw him stretch the ball out, I just punched out the ball, and it came out.”
Earlier on the drive, Jackson and Flowers burned Sneed for a 54-yard completion, only to see the gain reduced by 15 yards after the rookie was flagged for taunting. Sneed stated he did not realize what happened in the moment, citing his lack of reaction as evidence.
“I didn’t know that he did that,” the fourth-year pro explained. “If I did, then immediately I would have said something to him. The guys were telling me he stepped over me. I didn’t see that.”
Sneed admitted losing Flowers in a coverage breakdown but was happy with how he responded.
“I was kind of mad at myself,” he said, “because I didn’t see him get behind me when I went to safety. I was like next play mentality.”
The Chiefs never trailed in the game. Playing most of the afternoon with a lead was crucial to making the always-dangerous Jackson more predictable.
“That was the main thing,” Sneed agreed. “Make sure we get a lead on them, and make sure we get out front first. Just do what we do and stop Lamar.”
The defender also gave credit to Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo for how he planned for the sport’s best passing and rushing combination.
“We knew the whole time Lamar was going to run around,” Sneed reiterated. “The whole week, Spags just put in our heads to make sure we’re plastered on our guys because Lamar’s going to run around and look down the field to throw the ball. We made sure we stayed glue on our guys.”
Sneed joined the Chiefs in 2020 as a fourth-round draft pick from Louisiana Tech. In 2023, the versatile defensive back has taken his game to a new level. Without his efforts, the Chiefs likely would have already concluded their season. Though he has largely been snubbed for league honors, his teammates have taken note of his play.
“It was huge,” defensive tackle Chris Jones said after the game of Sneed’s season. “It just shows the testament and commitment he made throughout the year. The guy’s been making plays throughout the year. The guy’s been making plans all year. You can pull up his film — I don’t think a receiver had over a hundred on him the whole year. When you’ve got a guy like that — and the physical aspect at that — you see him jamming guys into the ground. A few weeks ago, you saw a highlight of him just pushing [Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill] into the ground.
“When you have that type of cornerback on your team, you can lock one side down. So, we’re able to kind of play tango or cover three on the other side — with man to man on this side because we know we’ve got faith and trust in him that we’re not worried about LJ. He added a whole another dynamic to this defense that I think Spags was able to utilize and take advantage of.”
Sneed will now have played in the Super Bowl in three of his four professional seasons. He reflected on the Chiefs still reaching the season’s final game amid a more difficult-than-expected campaign.
“We had a lot of doubters from the beginning of the season,” he declared. “No one believed in us. That champs at that — they didn’t believe at us. We stayed at it. We had a lot of adversity. We kept going — and look where we’re at now.”
Unlike his first two opportunities, the Chiefs had to punch this year’s Super Bowl ticket on the road. Sneed relished the opportunity to raise win the Lamar Hunt trophy before an opposing crowd.
“We’ve been at home most of the time the past couple of years,” he noted. “Coming into someone else’s home and taking over — it feels great.”