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8 winners and 2 losers from the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVIII victory

Which players attracted our attention as Kansas City defeated San Francisco in Las Vegas?

AMFOOT-SUPERBOWL-CHIEFS-49ERS Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Nothing was easy in this one, but it was poetic.

In many ways, the Kansas City Chiefs’ 25-22 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday night’s Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas was a microcosm of the 2023 season: a sloppy first half (including turnovers and a struggling offense) followed by a second half where they seemed to figure some things out. After the break, the Chiefs relied on their best players — who came up big when it mattered — and got the ball to some unexpected contributors to help collect their third championship in Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes Era.

This one will go down as one of the best, most hard-fought Super Bowls in history — and the second straight year in which the Chiefs won a title when many assumed they were at their weakest. The fact that they have achieved this much — and are still this young, with weaknesses surely to be addressed in the offseason — is surreal. What a time to be a fan!

Here are some standouts from the final game of a historic postseason run.

Winners

AMFOOT-SUPERBOWL-CHIEFS-49ERS Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: What else can we say? He was as clutch as clutch gets, first leading this team on a game-tying drive — and then a game-winning drive. Mahomes was nearly flawless at the end, leaning on his running ability when the team had to have it. In the overtime drive alone, he ran eight yards on a fourth-and-1 before running right through the middle of the 49ers defense for 19 yards on a third-and-1. Then, of course, he executed the Corndog pass to wide receiver Mecole Hardman that we’ll remember for a long time to come. Mahomes ended the day with 333 yards passing, two touchdowns and 66 yards rushing. But the competitiveness and confidence he brings on the field in these situations is what makes him the best to ever do it. We’re witnessing history every time Mahomes takes the field in the postseason.

Tight end Travis Kelce: Had the Chiefs lost, many people would be been talking about what seemed like an angry moment in which he was in head coach Andy Reid’s face and bumped him — or how slowly his game started (just one catch for one yard in the first half). But in the second half, we saw Playoff Kelce get open and deliver. He had nine catches on 10 targets for 93 yards and five critical first downs. He looked fast and focused — and next season, he’ll be back to chase more of Jerry Rice’s postseason records. We’ve avoided the Taylor Swift conversation, but you still have to be touched by the emotion and affection they shared after the game. What a year for the superstar tight end! We didn’t think he could top 2022 — but man, Kelce is living the dream! And enjoying every minute of it.

Wide receiver Mecole Hardman: If you had predicted the former-then-current Kansas City player would lead the team’s wideouts with 57 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the championship game, I hope you placed a bet on DraftKings. This postseason, he had collected two catches for five yards, lost five yards on the ground and fumbled twice. After he didn’t touch the ball in the AFC Championship, there was no reason to believe he’d be a Super Bowl hero. But Hardman caught all three of his targets — one was the longest play of the game (52 yards) — and the walkoff touchdown in overtime. Yes... the Chiefs won that trade.

Cornerback Trent McDuffie: The All-Pro was simply outstanding against San Francisco, with three pass breakups and two quarterback hits. His two huge plays in coverage against Deebo Samuel should be on every tape that shows how to play cornerback; he nearly intercepted one and prevented a touchdown on the other. And oh yeah... on one of the game’s biggest third downs — with two minutes left — he blitzed to force an incompletion and a field goal. In that moment, getting the Kansas City defense off the field with enough time for the offense to tie the game was critical — just like the trade-up Brett Veach executed to acquire McDuffie in 2022.

Defensive lineman Chris Jones: While he didn’t record a sack or a tackle-for-loss, don’t let the box score fool you. Jones is one of the reasons the Chiefs won this game. As always, he showed a real knack for getting pressure when it mattered the most. On multiple occasions, he helped put the clamps on San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy to end drives — including the 49ers’ last third down of the game. It was Jones’ pressure that forced the incompletion that forced a field goal in overtime, giving Kansas City the chance to win the game. If that ends up being the last we see of Jones, we should forever appreciate his energy and passion — and his ability to close out the biggest games of his Chiefs’ career.

Linebacker Leo Chenal: It’s almost startling to think about how young this Kansas City defense really is — and how much it can still improve. On Sunday night, the second-year linebacker was an under-the-radar MVP candidate, collecting six tackles — including one that forced a McCaffrey fumble on the opening drive and another that was an eight-yard loss. Then after the 49ers took the lead with a fourth-quarter touchdown, Chenal blocked the extra point — which can be interpreted as the moment in which the Chiefs took control of the game.

Dave Toub and his special teams unit: As always, placekicker Harrison Butker was absolutely clutch, making two game-tying field goals in the fourth quarter — not to mention the longest kick in Super Bowl history: a 57-yarder in the third quarter. Toub’s guys also recovered a fumble that led to a quick touchdown to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for Kansas City’s first lead of the game. You could argue that special teams was responsible for every point the Chiefs scored in regulation — while preventing one point the 49ers should have scored.

Steve Spagnuolo and the defense: The performance of this unit all season (and in the playoffs) is the biggest reason the Chiefs were even in the Super Bowl — and it went right to work against the crazy-talented 49ers’ offense. Kansas City contained San Francisco’s two best receivers to a total of 82 yards and no touchdowns; remarkably, they caught just six of their 17 targets! The defense also held Christian McCaffrey to 3.6 yards per carry (and forced him to fumble). It held tight end George Kittle to four receiving yards. The defense also got key stops when it had to have them. Twice, the offense turned the ball over — but the defense didn’t allow scores on the 49ers’ ensuing drives. The unit had a remarkable season, a dominant playoff run and another great performance in the championship. Spagnuolo is a Hall of Fame coach — and this young defense will only get better.

Losers

NFL: Super Bowl LVIII-San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There really aren’t any losers on this roster. These guys were all resilient in a brutal season — and a very tough finale. I’ll name a couple of folks — but only to balance things out.

Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire: Inactive for last year’s Super Bowl, the former first-round pick hoped he’d have more of a chance to impact this game. But his only touch of the day was stopped for no gain. He’s reportedly been a great teammate who has had a winning attitude — and certainly deserves his rings. It’s a shame he wasn’t able to stay healthy and produce consistently in his Chiefs’ career — which now might be over.

Wide receiver Kadarius Toney: The official (or unofficial) benching continued as the former New York Giants wideout was a healthy scratch for Sunday’s game. It’s been quite a ride for a player who was once thought to be the team’s No. 1 receiver. Clearly, things didn’t go as anyone planned — and he might not get another chance in Kansas City.


Note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.

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