MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- When Patrick Mahomes’ pass early in the fourth quarter clanged off the hands of Tyreek Hill and into the grasp of 49ers safety Tarvarius Moore, it felt like the final nail in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV coffin at Hard Rock Stadium.
The 49ers held a 20-10 lead, their defense had asserted its dominance in the third quarter and now Mahomes was looking like a deer in headlights.
This was, for all intents and purposes, a wrap. There would be no miracle Chiefs comeback with how Mahomes was playing. There were no gaps in the defense to be found. No weaknesses to exploit.
But then, out of nowhere a switch flipped.
After the Chiefs got the ball back, Mahomes hit Hill for 44 yards on third-and-15. Four plays later, he found Travis Kelce for a 1-yard touchdown.
Following a 49ers three-and-out, Mahomes marched 65 yards in seven plays, culminating in a 5-yard touchdown pass to running back Damien Williams. The score gave the Chiefs a lead they would not relinquish.
Final: Chiefs 31, 49ers 20.
The 49ers’ defense -- shocked and dejected after allowing the Chiefs to score a Super Bowl record 21 fourth-quarter points -- was left searching for answers while trying -- and somewhat failing -- not to point fingers.
“It was just mistakes -- self-inflicted,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “Just individual. It is on everybody.”
Nick Bosa, who spent most of the night whipping tackle Eric Fisher, didn’t have an answer for why the Chiefs finally were able to connect on the big plays in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know. I don’t play in the back end.” Bosa said.
After scoring a rushing touchdown in the first quarter, the 49ers made Mahomes look average during the middle of the game. At one point, he had a worse passer rating than Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff posted in last year’s Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.
The NFL’s Superman had met his kryptonite in a physical defense with the speed to contain the Chiefs playmakers from sideline to sideline and the willingness to hit him over and over.
“He started feeling pressure and started throwing up ducks,” 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “We got two picks. He started feeling the pressure.”
As Superman always does, he finds a way to take the kryptonite off his chest before the killing blow can be delivered.
“I was just trying to fight, and obviously, the third quarter didn’t go the way I wanted it to,” Mahomes, who was named game MVP, said. “I tried to force some things and had some turnovers. I mean, that’s a really good defense, a really good defense, and so I didn’t play to my liking in that third quarter and the guys believed in me and gave me confidence.”
The 49ers knew the Chiefs were a resilient group. Mahomes erased a 24-point deficit against the Houston Texans in the divisional round, and a 10-point hole against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game.
But to score 21 unanswered against this defense, in this moment, was a stunning show of force and talent that only the all-time greats possess.
The 49ers had the championship in their grasp. It took eight minutes for everything to fall apart.
They went from entering the conversation of best all-time defense to being a footnote in the story of Patrick Mahomes.
Now all they can do is ask: What happened?