How The Chiefs and 49ers Got To The Super Bowl

The NFL postseason’s market-corrected Sunday.  In a playoffs full of massive upsets, which included the undisputed best regular season team in the league falling in its first game, the two best teams left advanced to the Super Bowl.

Neither are huge surprises and neither are undeserving.  Had the two other teams won, maybe that statement wouldn’t be true.  But for the Super Bowl, we got the best of what the NFL had left.

The games weren’t very good at all, a complete 180 from last year, where Championship Sunday provided not only two of the best games of the year but two of the best games of the decade.  But hey, whatever it takes to keep Ryan Tannehill or a Packers team that was never very good out of the Super Bowl.

It seemed as if Green Bay never had a chance Sunday.  They looked just like the offensively sputtering, overrated 13-3 team they were against San Francisco, who gashed them for 285 rushing yards compared to just 69 through the air.

The biggest concerns about the 49ers throughout the season was their ability to throw the ball and have a trustworthy quarterback.  Jimmy Garoppolo has alleviated some of those worries, evident in that shootout against the Saints in Week 14.

But San Francisco hasn’t made us have to worry about Garoppolo, though.  The heavy running scheme has completed dominated both Minnesota and Green Bay in the playoffs.  Raheem Mostert had 160 yards and three touchdowns at halftime in the NFC Championship, and finished with 220.  Just 65 of the 49ers rushing yards came from backs other than Mostert.

He was unstoppable, and made Garoppolo irrelevant.  San Francisco had practically every Packer defender blocked at the line of scrimmage, allowing Mostert to average 7.6 yards per rush.

The 49ers had done it all year.  Their execution in the run game – whether it be the backs, the line or the coaching – was better than anyone’s throughout the season.  Sunday, they torched one of the NFL’s most improved defenses, and gave them no hope thanks to a 27-0 halftime lead.

The Niners were just as good on the other side of the ball.  Aaron Rodgers, despite being sacked only three times, was under constant pressure from San Francisco’s defensive line.  Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead dominated a pretty good Packers group and stifled Aaron Jones, who Green Bay relied on heavily this year.

Since Jones rushed for just 56 yards, it forced Green Bay attack through the air.  Davante Adams had a good day overall (A bit of a garbage time rally helped pad Green Bay’s stats and the score), but the lack of weapons aside from Adams loomed large.  No one was open underneath for Rodgers to get the ball to quickly.  Perhaps a shifty slot receiver (Brandon Aiyuk?) would help the Packers massively in the offseason.

San Francisco was the second best team in the league and the best in the NFC all year.  It makes sense that they’re here.  But the masking of Garoppolo and their run-oriented scheme might encounter some once-unlikely problems two weeks from now.

The last team that we expected to halt what has been one of the greatest stretches in NFL history from a running back was the Kansas City Chiefs.  Though an improved defensive unit from last year, Kansas City ranked 28th against the run according to Football Outsiders and allowed 4.9 yards per rush, fourth worst in the NFL.

That group stuffed Derrick Henry, who not only has been the Titans engine through their miracle playoff run but was the best running back in the league over the second half of the season.  Kansas City gave up just 69 yards on 19 carries to the impending free agent, despite falling in a 17-7 hole early in the first half.

Tennessee’s start was half stunning and half expected.  Stunning because for a quarter and a half, it looked as if Ryan Tannehill was really about to pull a Tom Brady or Nick Foles and get his team to the Super Bowl after taking over halfway through the season.  Tannehill was carving the Chiefs secondary – a group which heavily supplemented the unit’s overall improvement – and Henry was chipping away.

Yet, those 10-0 and 17-7 leads felt legit.  Andy Reid was on the other sideline; it was about time for him to lose early again in the playoffs, and even after upset wins of the Patriots and Ravens, doubt was still there.  At Arrowhead, for the first time, they actually started to feel real.

But Kansas City, a week after going down 24-0 at home, had the Titans right where they wanted them.  Patrick Mahomes started using his legs to extend plays, and the Chiefs used their speed on jet sweeps and by simply giving the ball to Tyreek Hill, who finished with two touchdowns on the day.  Kansas City scored 14 points unanswered points going into halftime, seven of which came on this ridiculous rush from Mahomes.

At that point, the game felt over.  It practically was.

Tennessee never led again after Mahomes pulled off what will be an iconic run, especially if Kansas City beats San Francisco on February 2.  Though it came right before halftime, it was the momentum boost the Chiefs needed.  They poured it on after the break.  A seven minutes, eight minute drive on Kansas City’s second possession of the third quarter broke Tennessee’s back, resulting in another touchdown to Hill and putting the Chiefs up two scores.  With Henry stuffed and Kansas City adjusting nicely defensively to combat Tannehill, the Titans had no answers.  The offensive onslaught was just too overwhelming.

Kansas City’s defensive performance sticks out the most, though.  After a couple rough drives early, it contained one of the most dominant forces in the playoffs and ran the Titans out of options.  It’s an outing that makes you wonder whether it could carry over to two weeks from now, where the Chiefs will need it thanks to San Francisco’s similar dominance on the ground.  If it doesn’t, sure, the Chiefs have Mahomes, certainly the more trustworthy quarterback among the two in the big game.  But if the Super Bowl does turn out to be more of a shootout, one key stop could be the biggest difference.