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Instabreakdown: Chiefs’ defense sets up offense to win Super Bowl

Throughout the championship fight, the defense kept Kansas City within striking distance.


On Sunday night, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 in Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, winning their second consecutive NFL championship — and their third in five seasons.


To start the Super Bowl, the Kansas City offense relapsed back to the sloppy, incoherent unit that Chiefs fans watched for most of the 2023 season. Penalties, congested passing lanes and loose ball handling all happened in the first half, in which Kansas City only managed a field goal.

Just as during much of this season, the bad plays came at rough times. Running back Isiah Pacheco fumbled in the red zone — right after a 53-yard gain by wide receiver Mecole Hardman. On many other occasions, the Chiefs’ offense wasted momentum swings caused by a defensive stop.

The offensive line clearly missed left guard Joe Thuney. For much of the game, Nick Allegretti and the rest of the front five struggled to keep the 49ers’ defensive line at bay. Left tackle Donovan Smith gave up a sack by defensive end Chase Young. Overall, Mahomes was sacked three times.

Still, the offense stuck with it, managing to keep drives alive as the game drew on. Tight end Travis Kelce was essentially shut out for the entire first half, but exploded in the second half to finish with 93 yards on nine catches. Wide receivers Justin Watson and Rashee Rice also played key roles as the passing game found a rhythm.

It all came down to two drives: one at the end of the fourth quarter and the game-ender in overtime. The former ended in a game-tying field goal — but the second was a walk-off touchdown. The drives combined for 24 plays and 139 yards — and did enough to win the game. Hardman’s second big play of the game won it for Kansas City.

Offensive Player of the Game: Quarterback Patrick Mahomes

The legendary quarterback didn’t start out looking that way. The offense sputtered for most of the first half — and he played a key part in that. He was sometimes hesitant to throw. At other times, he allowed pressure to affect him too much. Then he threw a mind-boggling interception in the third quarter.

But when the time came, Mahomes locked in, leading three consecutive scoring drives to end the game. He finished with 34 completions on 46 attempts for 333 yards and two touchdowns, earning a passer rating of 99.3.


The 49ers landed the first punch in its battle with the Chiefs’ defense, firing out of the gate with a strong running game and explosive passing plays from play action. Kansas City’s defensive line got pushed around on many handoffs, giving space for running back Christian McCaffrey.

It took big plays at the right times for the Chiefs to keep the 49ers to just 10 points at halftime. Linebacker Leo Chenal forced a fumble by McCaffrey on the opening drive. On the next possession, linebacker Nick Bolton helped blow up a jet sweep on a first down, leading to another punt.

Big plays on first down became a defensive theme throughout the evening. The Kansas City defense continued putting San Francisco in third-and-long, which allowed the pass rush to get pressure on quarterback Brock Purdy. There were many incomplete passes forced by the pass rush; the defense had 11 quarterback hits overall, but only finished one for a sack.

The defense did wear down, falling victim to the physical San Francisco rushing attack. The 49ers controlled the game more than the Chiefs wanted to see — and that led to two scoring drives in the fourth quarter. The pass coverage was giving way to big plays, but it was because Purdy had time to operate.

That said, the pressure got through when it mattered most: defensive tackle Chris Jones disrupted a third-down play in overtime, leading to a field goal that kept Kansas City alive. It ended up being a deciding factor in the game.

Defensive Player of the Game: Cornerback Trent McDuffie

Kansas City needed every play that McDuffie made. On an early drive, the 49ers threatened to score on a long touchdown — but McDuffie played clean coverage to knock it away. Then in the fourth quarter, McDuffie blitzed to knock down another pass, leading to a crucial field goal attempt that kept the Chiefs in it.

For the game, he had three tackles, two quarterback hits and three passes defended. The two most impactful plays he made were crucial in collecting another Super Bowl victory.

It's Game Time.

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